The Origins of Dominant Parties

52 Pages Posted: 22 Jan 2011 Last revised: 27 Aug 2014

See all articles by Ora John Reuter

Ora John Reuter

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee - Department of Political Science; National Research University Higher School of Economics

Date Written: August 24, 2010


Dominant parties are known to extend the longevity of authoritarian rule. If this is so, why do leaders and elites in many non-democratic regimes refrain from investing in dominant parties? This paper examines why dominant parties emerge in some non-democracies, but not in others. Where existing accounts of institutional emergence in non-democratic regimes focus mostly on the incentives for authoritarian leaders to build parties, this paper shifts the focus of analysis to elites and their incentives to commit to a nascent dominant party. The novelty of this approach is to frame the dilemma as a mutual commitment problem between two sides: a state leader and other elites. Dominant parties are more likely to emerge, I argue, when other elites hold enough independent political resources (relative to the ruler’s supply of political resources) that coopting them is necessary, but not so many autonomous resources that they themselves are unwilling to commit to the dominant party. Using original data on the emergence of all dominant parties in authoritarian regimes from 1946-2008, I find evidence for this proposition. Dominant parties are least likely to emerge when rulers are very strong relative to elites or when elites are very strong relative to rulers. All else being equal, they are most likely to emerge when the balance of resources between leaders and other elites is relatively balanced. These findings enrich our understanding of why some countries democratize, but others do not.

Keywords: Dominant Parties, Authoritarian Regimes, Institutions, Democratization

Suggested Citation

Reuter, Ora John, The Origins of Dominant Parties (August 24, 2010). American Political Science Association Teaching and Learning Conference, September 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Ora John Reuter (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee - Department of Political Science ( email )

PO Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53211
United States

National Research University Higher School of Economics ( email )

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017

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