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Episodes of liberalization in autocracies: a new approach to quantitatively studying democratization

Wilson, Matthew C. and Medzihorsky, Juraj and Maerz, Seraphine F. and Lindenfors, Patrik and Edgell, Amanda B. and Boese, Vanessa A. and Lindberg, Staffan I. (2022) 'Episodes of liberalization in autocracies: a new approach to quantitatively studying democratization.', Political Science Research and Methods .


This paper introduces a new approach to the quantitative study of democratization. Building on the comparative case-study and large-N literature, it outlines an episode approach that identifies the discrete beginning of a period of political liberalization, traces its progression, and classifies episodes as successful versus different types of failing outcomes, thus avoiding potentially fallacious assumptions of unit homogeneity. We provide a description and analysis of all 383 liberalization episodes from 1900 to 2019, offering new insights on democratic “waves”. We also demonstrate the value of this approach by showing that while several established covariates are valuable for predicting the ultimate outcomes, none explain the onset of a period of liberalization.

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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the same Creative Commons licence is included and the original work is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use.
Date accepted:20 July 2021
Date deposited:18 July 2022
Date of first online publication:15 June 2022
Date first made open access:18 July 2022

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