Dr. Holger Albrecht, Kevin Koehler, and Austin Schutz “Coup Agency and Prospects for Democracy” Journal Article

Coup Agency and Prospects for Democracy

Dr. Holger Albrecht (University of Alabama), Kevin Koehler, and Austin Schutz (University of Alabama)

Journal Article in International Studies Quarterly, October 7, 2021


This research note introduces new global data on military coups. Conventional aggregate data so far has conflated two distinct types of coups. Military interventions by leading officers are coups “from above,” characterized by political power struggles within authoritarian elite coalitions where officers move against civilian elites, executive incumbents, and their loyal security personnel. By contrast, power grabs by officers from the lower and middle ranks are coups “from below,” where military personnel outside of the political elite challenge sitting incumbents, their loyalists, and the regime itself. Disaggregating coup types offers leverage to revise important questions about the causes and consequences of military intervention in politics. This research note illustrates that coup attempts from the top of the military hierarchy are much more likely to be successful than coups from the lower and middle ranks of the military hierarchy. Moreover, coups from the top recalibrate authoritarian elite coalitions and serve to sustain autocratic rule; they rarely produce an opening for a democratic transition. Successful coups from below, by contrast, can result in the breakdown of authoritarian regimes and generate an opening for democratic transitions.