Elite Co-optation, Repression, and Coups in Autocracies

Vincenzo Bove, Mauricio Rivera Celestino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (SciVal)


This article provides an explanation for the significant variation in coups in autocracies. The existing theoretical literature focuses on the strategies that leaders use to thwart mass mobilization and survive in power. However, most autocratic leaders lose power through a coup, indicating that the main threats to political survival in autocracies emerge from insiders and not from outside the incumbent coalition. This article focuses on leaders’ strategies to mitigate elite threats and argues that autocrats’ strategies of co-optation and repression within the ruling elite and the armed forces affect the risk of coups in opposite ways. Elected authoritarian legislatures are instruments that leaders employ to co-opt members of the incumbent coalition and are expected to decrease the likelihood of coups. In contrast, purges of insider actors constitute a repressive strategy that depletes bases of support and increases the risk of coups. We find empirical support for these hypotheses from a sample of all authoritarian regimes from 1950 to 2004.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-479
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number3
Early online date1 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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