This article explains coup activity in democracies by adapting insights from the literature on commitment problems and framing coup around the threats leaders and potential coup plotters pose to each other. The author uses several data sets of coup activity and democratic constraints to find significant differences in coup activity between democracies and non-democracies.
Democratic constraints on executive power inhibit a leader’s ability to repress threats from political rivals, which decreases motivations for coups but at the same time makes democracies more vulnerable to coup attempts.
Democracies are about half as likely to use coup-related repression as civilian non-democracies, but they face a similar frequency of coup attempts.
Coups attempted against democracies are more likely to succeed.