Can democratization have an adverse effect on forests? As deforestation presents one of humanity’s most pressing environmental challenges in effort to limit global climate change, understanding the effects of political institutions on forest loss is of importance. In this thesis I re-investigate the findings of Sanford (2021) and others suggesting that democratization is associated with deforestation in young democracies due to increased political competition. Leveraging satellite measurements of forest cover aggregated into 0.5° grid cell panel data from 1982 to 2016, as well as data on regimes’ political support bases (support coalitions), I explore whether the effect of democracy on forest cover change is moderated by the identity of the key support groups that the post-transition regime needs to stay in power. Drawing on existing literature, I theorize that different support coalition identities (urban and rural coalitions) reflect different economic and political interests in society, which in turn could affect environmental outcomes such as deforestation.
In order to explore these relationships, I used OLS with two-way fixed effect as well as Mahalanobis distance matching with panel data. I find that the associated effect of democracy on forest loss is heterogeneously moderated by support coalition identity and forest type, with democratic regimes interacted with rural supporters being associated with an average increase in forest cover globally (reforestation). Moreover, neither democracy nor its interaction with different support coalitions had an effect on a tropical forest sub-sample. I further probe for the total effect of different support coalitions on forest cover change, regardless of regime type. From this analysis, I find that regimes who rely on the support from urban groups are associated with higher-than-average forest loss across global forest and in the tropics. I argue that these findings imply that the effect of democratization varies across different contexts, and that more attention should be given to the idiosyncratic support bases of incumbent/new regimes to better understand the dynamics of political deforestation.