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Randolph M. Siverson and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita

The Selectorate Theory is based upon one simple, perhaps even commonplace assumption: Once in office, leaders want to remain in office. They have a variety of tools to enhance their longevity in office, but the theory hypothesizes the leader’s allocation of two types of goods will be paramount in their efforts. One good is private, meaning that it is enjoyed by those to whom it is allocated and not to others. Such goods would include money, jobs, opportunities for corruption, but their hallmark is that they are not shared. These goods may be given to one individual or to a group, but they are not shared outside those to whom they are given. The second type of good is public and is shared by all those in the state. These goods would include potable water, clean air, education, and, importantly, national defense. There is little unique about the Selectorate Theory’s understanding of these goods, as they approximate ideas from economics. The importance and values of these two goods depend critically on the political institutions of the state. The Selectorate Theory identifies two political institutions of dominant importance: The Selectorate, from which it takes its name; and the Winning Coalition. The former consists of all those people who have a role in selecting the state’s leader. This group may be large, as in the electorate in democratic states, or small, as in the case of an extended family or a junta. In unusual circumstances it can even be a group outside the state, as when a foreign government either imposes or influences choices made inside the state. The winning coalition may be large, but not larger than the selectorate, or it may be as small as an extended family or a junta, groups that essentially constitute the selectorate. Variations in these two institutions can have important consequences for how the state conducts its foreign policy. For example, leaders in states with small winning coalitions should be able to take greater risks in their policies because if these fail, they will be able to mobilize and distribute private goods to reinforce their position. If these goods are not readily available, it is possible to purge non-critical supporters and redistribute their goods to others. These institutions are also important in identifying the kinds of issues over which states are more or less likely to enter into conflict. States with small winning coalitions are more likely to enter into disputes over things that can be redistributed to supporters, such as land or resources. Large winning coalitions will have little use for such goods, since the ratio of coalition size and goods to be distributed is likely to be exiguous. The Selectorate Theory also provides a firm analysis of the foundations for the idea of the Democratic Peace, which has been generally either lacking or imprecise. Despite its clarity, some interpretations of the Selectorate Theory have led to mistaken inferences about what it says. We discuss several of these and close with a consideration of the need for improvement in the measurement of key variables.


Stephen L. Quackenbush and Thomas R. Guarrieri

Foreign policy analysis has been used effectively to explain the use of force. Several leading approaches and paradigms help explain the use of force as a tool of foreign policy. These approaches are based on the important preliminary step of opening up the black box of state, which highlights the importance of decision making for explaining international politics. The two primary approaches to explaining foreign policy analysis are rational choice theory and psychological theories. Foreign policy analysis opens the door to a variety of novel and interesting topics. Many topics of domestic politics relate to international conflict, including democratic peace theory, selectorate theory, public opinion, domestic institutions, and leaders. Each of these topics is important for explaining the use of force in foreign policy. Future research on the use of force and international conflict should account for the importance of domestic politics. Studies of leaders, selectorate theory, and the bargaining model of war provide especially promising avenues for future research.


Michael Masterson and Jessica L. P. Weeks

What do we know about the causes and outcomes of international military conflict? Decades of research from different theoretical traditions have explored the outbreak and conclusion of international conflict from a variety of angles. Broadly speaking, scholarship about international conflict has tended to orbit around three core concepts: power, institutions, and the source of the interstate dispute. The question that remains is how well verified are the most important theories? Three influential theories seek to predict patterns of international conflict: power transition theory, which argues that shifts in power increase the likelihood of war; selectorate theory, which predicts that states that have large winning coalitions are more selective about war; and theories about issue indivisibility and war, which predict that issues that states view as impossible to divide—such as a national homeland—are more likely to lead to conflict. Each of these theories produces specific predictions, allowing an assessment of how well the evidence supports the theories’ main conjectures. Central to understanding the causes of conflict is whether empirical work has tested these three theories using well-validated measures; whether a variety of scholars have tested the core propositions of the theory; and whether scholars have found evidence of the causal mechanisms proposed by each theory. Although each theory has garnered some support, they all fall short on one or more of these criteria. In particular, more work is needed in both measurement and evidence of causal mechanisms before scholars can be confident of the theories’ explanatory power.