A large proportion of coup attempts in autocracies occur in the aftermath of elections, yet little systematic research exists on the topic. Drawing on recent literature on elections in autocracies, we present an argument to explain postelection coups. While we recognize that electoral institutions have the potential to stabilize autocracies, we illustrate that the election event can spark instability when incumbents reveal electoral weakness. Electoral outcomes—in the form of vote shares and opposition reactions—are signals containing information about the strength of the opposition, and indirectly about the likelihood of a successful full-scale revolution that would compromise the privileged positions of regime elites. In these situations, coups are likely to be initiated to avoid a revolution, either by serving as concessions to the opposition or by facilitating increased repression. We perform a large-N study that supports our argument, significantly nuancing the claim that elections stabilize autocracies.
Wig, Tore & Espen Geelmuyden Rød (2016) Cues to Coup Plotters: Elections as Coup Triggers in Dictatorships, Journal of Conflict Resolution 60 (5): 787–812.