Reshaping the Threat Environment: Personalism, Coups, and Assassinations

John Chin, Abel Escribà-Folch, Wonjun Song, Joseph Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Dictators shape regime structures to counter the threats they face. Personalization entails the progressive accumulation of power in the hands of the dictator to minimize internal threats from organized elites in the military and party. However, elites have incentives to resist the personalization to avoid being marginalized by personalist strongmen. We argue that as personalism increases, rival elites, less able to coordinate coup attempts, turn to strategies that do not require substantial elite coordination: assassinations. At low levels of personalism, elites coordinate insider coups to oust the ruler, reshuffling leadership and still retaining power. At middle levels of personalism, elites organize regime change coups as reshuffling coups become more difficult. At high levels of personalism, even regime change coups become difficult to mount, and increasingly marginalized and desperate rivals turn to assassinations. We test these expectations with new data on personalism, assassination, and coup attempts, covering all autocracies over the 1946–2010 period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-687
Number of pages31
JournalComparative Political Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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