On Authoritarian Politics

My research on authoritarianism can be divided into two parts: the study of mass support for authoritarianism and the study of political actors under authoritarianism.

Political Behavior under Authoritarianism

Why do people support authoritarian leaders and policies? I have spent lots of time thinking and researching on this question, and my research has especially focused on the role of emotions and identities. I have primarily relied on public opinion surveys and online survey experiments in answering these questions.

Does authoritarian propaganda work to build support for authoritarian regimes? Most people think that it does; most scholars are skeptical about it. In one of my ongoing research projects, I aim to answer this question. Relying on an online survey experiment, quantitative analysis of representative survey data, and qualitative analysis of online reaction videos, I demonstrate that developmentalist narratives help the authoritarian regime in Turkey to build affective and charismatic ties with their voters and sustain positive economic evaluations. I have presented this research in ECPR Joint Sessions Conference, PSA Annual Conference, and 4th UK Political Psychology Conference. In September 2022 I will present its most recent version in the APSA conference as part of a panel that I am organising.

You can find the most recent version of this working paper here.

Support for authoritarianism has primarily been described with an instrumental logic: “People support authoritarian regimes in return for material welfare”. But do authoritarian regimes also rely on normative support, i.e. support based on the congruence of the regime and the type of political system that people want to have? In a research project with Anja Neundorf (University of Glasgow), Ksenia Northmore-Ball (QMUL), Katerina Tertytchnaya (UCL), and Johannes Gerschewski (WZB), I aimed to answer this question by relying on online survey experiments and public opinion surveys.

You can find our preprint, entitled “A Loyal Base: Support for Authoritarian Regimes in Times of Crisishere.

Few voters prefer an authoritarian regime to a democratic one. Yet, there is an alarming trend of autocratization across the world, facilitated by the consistent electoral support that incumbents with authoritarian ambitions enjoy. Why do voters support incumbents dismantling democratic institutions? Using two different online experiments, I explored the role of partisan emotions to reveal the dynamics of voter support for acts of autocratization. My research has demonstrated that partisan emotions, i.e. anger at the opposition party and enthusiasm for one’s own party, can convince incumbent party voters to support acts of aggrandizement, without shifting their overall regime preferences.

You can find this work, entitled “Emotions and Support for Executive Aggrandizement” here.

Do partisan identities exist in autocracies? With Melis Laebens (University of Oxford), we conducted an original public opinion survey in Turkey to explore whether partisan social identities existed in Turkey and what were their origins. Our research has demonstrated that it was the process of autocratization that fed partisan group identities and polarization.

Findings from this research project has been published at Comparative Political Studies. Please e-mail me if you do not have access to the the journal or you want to see our data.

Political Actors under Authoritarianism

I also conduct research on strategic behaviours of political actors under authoritarian conditions. This research primarily builds on the qualitative and comparative analysis of case studies.

Despite many failures on the ground, Turkish voters think that Erdogan government’s COVID response was successful. Why? With Melis Laebens (University of Oxford), I explored the Erdogan government’s COVID strategy and public reactions to it. Despite the abundant use of moral antagonisms in his discourse, Erdoğan did not attempt to politicize the pandemic, instead framing it as a global health crisis and presenting the government’s public health policies as expert-driven and competent. However, this expert-driven approach was largely a performance. Without a system of democratic oversight or a free media to scrutinize government policies, the Erdoğan government could systematically undercount COVID-19 cases and disregard its own public health restrictions, all the while spreading its narrative of competence and success. Our findings have revealed how authoritarian institutions allow governments to sustain a gap between performance and actuality, granting their leaders greater possibilities to claim policy success.

This research has been published at Government and Opposition. Please send an e-mail to me if you do not have access to the journal. 

While successful cases of autocratization, like Turkey and Venezuela, draw most attention, similar attempts have failed in other countries, with varying consequences for democratic institutions. Matthew Cleary (Syracuse University) and I have developed an agency-based perspective to explain when executive attempts at autocratization results in democratic breakdown. Relying on comparative case studies of five countries—Bolivia, Ecuador, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela—our analysis demonstrated that the contingent decisions of opposition actors during the process of aggrandizement have a significant effect on regime outcomes.

This research has been published at Perspectives on Politics. Please send an e-mail to me if you do not have access to the journal.