No.45 Electoral Responsiveness in Closed Autocracies: Evidence from Petitions in the former German Democratic Republic
Contested elections are usually seen as preconditions for constituent responsiveness. This paper shows that even uncontested elections can create incentives for dictators to respond to and address citizen demands. I argue that autocratic governments engage in cycles of responsiveness to assure citizens of their competence before uncontested elections and ensure that high popular support mitigates the short-term destabilizing effects that elections can have. Using a unique dataset of petitions to the government of the former German Democratic Republic, I show that response times to petitions were up to 31 percent shorter before elections, and that success rates were up to 63.6 percent higher. While extant research on responsiveness in autocracies usually highlights the incentives of local officials, my results are driven by the central government. The paper furthers our understanding of electoral mobilization in closed regimes and contributes to an emerging research agenda on responsiveness and accountability in autocracies.