08 March 2010

Article: The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation

Peter T. Leeson and Andrea M. Dean, "The Democratic Domino Theory: An Empirical Investigation" ("American Journal of Political Science", 53 [3], July 2009: pp. 533-51).

Abstract: "According to the democratic domino theory, increases or decreases in democracy in one country spread and 'infect' neighboring countries, increasing or decreasing their democracy in turn. Using spatial econometrics and panel data that cover over 130 countries between 1850 and 2000, this article empirically investigates the democratic domino theory. We find that democratic dominoes do in fact fall as the theory contends. However, these dominoes fall significantly 'lighter' than the importance of this model suggests. Countries 'catch' only about 11% of the increases or decreases in their average geographic neighbors' increases or decreases in democracy. This finding has potentially important foreign policy implications. The 'lightness' with which democratic dominoes fall suggests that even if foreign military intervention aimed at promoting democracy in undemocratic countries succeeds in democratizing these nations, intervention is likely to have only a small effect on democracy in their broader regions." (originally all in italics)

The full text of the article is available free of charge here:


Some excerpts: "Most recently, a democratic domino idea has been used to justify American intervention in Iraq and the Middle East [...]. Despite this idea's importance guiding global foreign affairs, relatively little research has investigated whether in fact changes in democracy spread between geographic neighbors as this theory hypothesizes. Indeed, surprisingly few papers directly address the domino theory as a general proposition at all. [...] Our results point to several conclusions. First, foreign policy should not pretend that democratic increases in one country will lead, in the words of President Bush, to a 'democratic revolution' in the larger region it is situated in. [...] Although there are a handful of intervention successes that succeeded in promoting democracy [...] most U.S. attempts at imposing liberal democracy abroad have failed."

Peter T. Leeson is BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism in the Department of Economics at George Mason University.

Andrea M. Dean is a Ken and Randy Kendrick Fellow in the Department of Economics at West Virginia University.

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