Inequality and democratization: A contractarian approach

Ben Ansell, David Samuels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Scholars continue to grapple with the question of the relationship between economic development and democratization; prominent recent research has focused on the effects of economic inequality. Boix suggests that democratization is likelier when inequality is low, whereas Acemoglu and Robinson argue that democratization is likelier when inequality is at middling levels. Both assume that democratization is a function of autocratic elites' fear of the extent to which a future median voter would redistribute under different levels of inequality. Drawing on contractarian political theory, the authors suggest that democratization is instead a function of demands by rising economic groups for protection from the state. This alternative approach suggests that land and income inequality affect democratization differently: Autocracies with equal land distribution are indeed more likely to democratize, but contrary to the conventional wisdom, income inequality is more likely to promote democratization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1543-1574
Number of pages32
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • democratization
  • inequality
  • modernization theory
  • regime change


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