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When is Democracy an Equilibrium? Theory and Evidence from Colombia’s La Violencia


Author Info

  • Mario Chacón

    (New York University Abu Dhabi, New York, NY, USA,

  • James A. Robinson

    (Department of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA)

  • Ragnar Torvik

    (Department of Economics, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)


The conventional wisdom is that for a democracy to be consolidated, all groups must have a chance to attain power. If they do not, then they will subvert democracy and choose to fight for power. In this article, the authors show that this wisdom is seriously incomplete because it considers absolute, not relative payoffs. Although the probability of winning an election increases with the size of a group, so does the probability of winning an armed conflict. Thus, in a situation in which all groups have a high chance of winning an election, they may also have a high chance of winning a fight. Indeed, in a natural model, the authors show that democracy may never be consolidated in such a situation. Rather, democracy may only be stable when one group is dominant. The authors explore this key aspect of the theory using data from La Violencia, a political conflict in Colombia during the years 1946—1950 between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Consistent with their results, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the authors show that fighting between the parties was more intense in municipalities where the support of the parties was more evenly balanced.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Peace Science Society (International) in its journal Journal of Conflict Resolution.

Volume (Year): 55 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 366-396

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Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:55:y:2011:i:3:p:366-396

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Keywords: democratic consolidation; partisan conflict; polarization; balance of power;


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Cited by:
  1. James A. Robinson & Ragnar Torvik, 2008. "Endogenous Presidentialism," NBER Working Papers 14603, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Leopoldo Fergusson & Juan F. Vargas, 2013. "Don't make war, make elections: Franchise extension and violence in XIXth-century Colombia," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO 010545, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO.
  3. Michael McBride & Gary Milante & Stergios Skaperdas, 2011. "Peace and War With Endogenous State Capacity," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), Peace Science Society (International), vol. 55(3), pages 446-468, June.


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