Book Project

Ethnicity, Equality, and Democracy: The Viability of Popular Rule in Plural Societies

The book project examines how socioeconomic ethnic inequality affects the prospects of democratic development. Rather than studying diversity and inequality in isolation, it ties the two together to shed new light on the multifaceted relationship between ethnicity, equality, and democracy. The findings show that ethnic inequality is highly destabilizing for democracy, and that this effect is much stronger than those of economic inequality or ethnic heterogeneity alone. 


While the book mainly focuses on democracy as an outcome, I also reverse the causal arrow to consider democracy’s effect on ethnic inequality, showing that democratization can bring about greater socioeconomic equality between groups. Under certain circumstances, democracies enter propitious pathways that reduce ethnic inequality and increase democratic resilience. The book thus explains how ethnic equality and democracy can mutually reinforce each other, demonstrating that it is possible for popular rule to endure and thrive in plural societies.

Working papers

Pathways to Democracy with J. Doucette

Why do some democratic transitions last? Different pathways to democracy have been theorized to result in lasting transitions, emphasizing, for instance, the importance of developing state capacity prior to democratization. This letter argues that the empirical specifications used in much applied work are not appropriate for testing such pathway explanations. To illustrate this, we examine the pathway version of modernization theory using theoretically guided specifications and subsequently compare them to conventional specifications. Substantively, the analysis reveals i) that higher socioeconomic development put countries on a path towards either stable autocracy or stable democracy and ii) that the path to stable democracy becomes more likely than stable autocracy at higher levels of development. This differs from conventional specifications that find no relationship between development and transitions to democracy and a positive relationship between post-transition development and regime stability. These results underscore the importance of ensuring consistency between empirical specification and theoretical argument.

From Disparity to Grievance: Interethnic vs. Interpersonal Inequality with L. F. Aarslew L. F. and M. E. Christensen.

Macro-level studies find that interethnic group inequalities are particularly likely to cause collective grievances, protest mobilization, violent conflict, and democratic instability compared with interpersonal inequalities. Yet, we have a limited micro-level understanding of why these different dimensions of inequality lead to different outcomes. Building on theories from the conflict literature and the social psychology of inequality, we hypothesize that citizens identifying with disadvantaged ethnic groups are more likely to experience feelings of injustice when considering economic disparity at the interethnic level. We present comprehensive evidence from a series of survey experiments across the United States, India, and South Africa. Our findings show that presenting information about real-world inequality levels -regardless of inequality type - leads to higher levels of perceived economic unfairness and deeper feelings of anger and frustration. Contrary to our expectations, however, we find only limited support for the proposition that interethnic inequality is more likely than interpersonal inequality to generate perceptions that society is unfair and lead to grievances. These findings suggest that the ethnic inequality's particularly strong destabilizing effects most likely stem from group mobilization dynamics, rather than particularly strong perceptions of unfairness.

Does ethno-political exclusion cause civil war onset via grievances? Evidence from comparative case studies with L. Rørbæk and SE. Skaaning

This paper uses qualitative evidence from all the cases between 1991 and 2021, where a politically excluded group is involved in a conflict onset, to investigate whether group grievances concerning political exclusion explain the onset of civil war. The analysis find support for the prominent proposition in many cases, where grievance-based mobilization triggered civil war when governments countered mobilized groups with either indiscriminate repression or an incoherent mix of repressive and accommodative policies. These strategies have typically been adopted by states that did not have the capacity to selectively target dissidents or to repress or accommodate their challengers consistently. Moreover, the relationship was reversed in other cases, where armed conflict tended to be a key motivation for rebellion because it led to disruption of public order and the exclusion of ethnic groups. This means that while there is substantial backing for the exclusion-civil war relationship, reverse causality is also common. These findings call for a revision of unidirectional versions of grievance-based theory and suggest that empirical assessments should do more to tackle endogeneity.

Modes of Regime Change: A New Data Set with D. Andersen and SE. Skaaning

We present a new dataset, identifying features of regime change for all democratic transitions and breakdowns from 1789 to 2022. Existing datasets are either preoccupied with the basic distinction between democracy and autocracy and their respective institutions or are limited to compound types of regime change without a clear specification of their underlying components. Notably, this hinders our ability to identify and explain variation in outcomes within the groups of democracies and autocracies. Our dataset breaks standards by coding a comprehensive set of features of regime change from actors, power balance, character of mobilization and violence, to justification. It includes unusually transparent procedures comprising explicit case-specific coding rationale, certainty estimates, and bibliography. This dataset is crucial for establishing a stronger micro-level foundation in future research on the causes and consequences of democracy and autocracy.

The Democracy-Inequality Paradox: How Democratization Increases Redistribution without Reducing Inequality with C. Jensen

Despite good reasons to believe that democracy reduces economic inequality, the empirical evidence is mixed, and most recent studies have concluded that there is no robust average effect. This paper contributes to the discussion by arguing theoretically and showing empirically that there is a need to differentiate between the level of inequality before redistribution (market inequality), redistribution via taxes and welfare state programs (amount of redistribution), and the level of inequality after redistribution (net inequality). Extant work generally fails to make this distinction, which is detrimental to our understanding of the relationship between democracy and inequality, since democratic experience increases redistribution but also increases market inequality. A global statistical analysis supports this perspective and indicates that, overall, the two effects tend to cancel each other out.