July 15, 2009

The Democratic Domino Theory

  • Peter Leeson

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
  • Andrea Dean

Contact us
To speak with a scholar or learn more on this topic, visit our contact page.

According to the democratic domino theory, increases or decreases in democracy in one country spread and "infect" neighboring countries, increasing or decreasing their democracy in turn. Using spatial econometrics and panel data that covers over 130 countries between 1850 and 2000, this paper empirically investigates the democratic domino theory. It finds that democratic dominoes do in fact fall as the theory contends. However, these dominoes fall significantly "lighter" than the importance of this model suggests. Countries "catch" only about 11 percent of the increases or decreases in their average geographic neighbors' increases or decreases in democracy. This finding has potentially important foreign policy implications. The "lightness" with which democratic dominoes fall suggests that even if foreign military intervention aimed at promoting democracy in undemocratic countries succeeds in democratizing these nations, intervention is likely to have a only a small effect on democracy in their broader regions.

Read the article at Wiley Online Library.

Citation (Chicago Style): Leeson, Peter T. and Andrea Dean. "The Democratic Domino Theory." American Journal of Political Science 53, no. 3 (2009): 533-551.