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What Coups and Elections Have in Common

March 30, 2022
Josef Woldense and Jun Koga Sudduth


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Josef Woldense, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, and Jun Koga Sudduth, Senior Lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, analyze the similarities between coups and elections as transfers of power.

For Russia’s President Putin, the invasion of neighboring Ukraine was supposed to deliver a swift victory. But things have not turned out as planned. The invasion has been met with stiff resistance, unprecedented economic sanctions, and increasing domestic discontent. Even worse for Putin, there are now serious questions about whether someone within his regime will stage a coup and remove him from power. But just as he has sought to protect himself from potential financial sanctions, Putin seems to have anticipated this threat from within. He did this not because he has unique foresight, but because coups are something all autocrats face.

Coups are not just isolated events—something that happens on a particular day, where the conspirators either succeed or fail. Rather, they are a close cousin of elections. Both are mechanisms for the transfer of power with one mostly found in dictatorships and the other in democracies. Shadow an elected official as they perform their daily tasks, and it becomes quickly apparent that the policies they advocate for, the people they meet with, and the fundraisers they stage are all geared towards the goal of winning the next election. Far from mattering only on the day when citizens cast their vote, the influence of elections is ever-present in democracies and profoundly shapes what elected officials do on a day-to-day basis.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.