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Political Succession: A Model of Coups, Revolution, Purges, and Everyday Politics


Journal of Conflict Resolution

Published online on


In addition to everyday political threats, leaders risk removal from office through coups and mass movements such as rebellion. Further, all leaders face threats from shocks such as downturns in their health, their country’s economy, or their government’s revenue. By integrating these risks into the selectorate theory, we characterize the conditions under which each threat is pertinent and the countermoves (purges, democratization, expansion of public goods, and expansion of private benefits) that best enable the leader to survive in office. The model identifies new insights into the nature of assassins; the relative risk of different types of leader removal as a function of the extant institutions of government; and the endogenous factors driving better or worse public policy and decisions to democratize or become more autocratic. Importantly, the results highlight how an increase in the risk of deposition via one means intensifies other removal risks.