Varieties of Autocratization

Varieties of Autocracy and Autocratization (V-Aut) is a research project that aims to contribute to a better understanding of (1) why and how political regimes move towards autocracy as well as (2) the institutions and stability of historical and contemporary autocracies.


Autocratization – a substantial decline of democratic regime traits – is a key challenge of the 21st century. Many countries face illiberal threats and some democracies – e.g. Turkey, Russia, Venezuela – already cease to be democratic. We are in a third wave of autocratization.

A worrying new trend is the sharp increase in incumbent-led autocratization, which has two key characteristics: (1) Autocratizers come to power legally and then (2) incrementally undermine democratic constraints, step-by-step. For instance, Venezuela was governed democratically for more than four decades before Chavez started to dismantle its democratic institutions. We now observe similar actions taken in Hungary and Poland, perhaps even the United States. Hence, contemporary autocratization can even affect established democracies - countries that were long considered as immune to such threats.


Varieties of Autocratization

The Varieties of Autocratization project takes a systematic and comprehensive approach to understand and explain the features of the contemporary wave of autocratization. In particular, we investigate how and why incumbents manage to bypass or weaken democratic institutional constraints such as an impartial administration, vertical and horizontal accountability, as well as free and open media. This applies both to an autocratizer’s legal rise to power and their autocratizing behavior once in office.

Our key research questions are the following:

  • Can we identify potential autocratizers before they are elected?
  • How do incumbents undermine democratic constraints and render regimes more autocratic?
  • Why do they succeed in some cases and not in others?
  • Varieties of Autocracy

    In collaboration with a range of international experts on autocracy, we have developed a range of research proposals to further our understanding of dictatorships. More information to be added soon.


    The project’s first publication is out: “The Third Wave of Autocratization is Here: What’s New About it”.


    Research on the topic is funded by Vetenskapsrådet (“Rule by Recession: The Challenge of Contemporary Autocratization”) and the Wallenberg Academy (“Endangered Democracies: Sequences of Autocratization”).