Over the past four decades, the majority of autocracies have held multiparty elections. My dissertation investigates the influence these elections have on policy and democratic development. I break up the analysis into four substantive chapters. First, I introduce a new dataset that disaggregates democracy into the two dimensions of participation and contestation to map the evolution of hybrid regimes from 1815-2004. I find that nearly all hybrid regimes prior to 1940 featured high contestation and low participation, whereas the opposite is true for modern regimes. I show that experience with contested autocratic elections is a positive predictor of democratization and democratic stability. In the second chapter, I theorize that autocratic elections are used to gather information on citizen preferences and calibrate policy concessions. In the first cross-country empirical study of autocratic election outcomes and policy choice, I find that as a ruling party's vote support wanes, it concedes on policy by increasing education and social welfare spending and decreasing military spending.
In the third chapter, I consider what electoral autocracy's informational value implies for regime transitions. I introduce a formal model in which an autocrat chooses between closed authoritarianism, electoral authoritarianism, and democracy in the shadow of popular revolt. Among the empirical implications is that we should find electoral autocracies at middle values of economic inequality and uncertainty. Finally, in a new approach to democratization, I argue that the relationship between economic development and democracy is conditioned by autocratic regime strength. I show that development predicts democratization, but only in periods of regime weakness following violent leader change. Simultaneously, it makes these periods less likely. Although these two effects cancel out within autocracies, they reinforce each other within democracies, explaining the well-known puzzle of why per capita income predicts democratic survival, but not democratization. I expand this framework to explore patterns related to autocratic electoral history, urbanization, and inequality.