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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Patterns of Loyalism: Explaining Excessive Compliance of Officials in an Authoritarian State at the Regional Level

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Alexander Libman
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU
Alexander Libman
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München – LMU

The literature on authoritarian states has provided substantial evidence on the preconditions under which the political elites (both central and regional) show disloyalty to the leadership, potentially encouraging protests and erupting the foundation of the regime. Much less known is, however, on a different phenomenon frequently observed in autocracies: excessive signals of loyalty and support sent by elites to the center, partly at the expense of their own political standing. Elites in many cases go beyond the sufficient requirements set by the authoritarian regime in supporting its political position. Sometimes they go even further than the regime itself would prefer, making excessive ideological statements or undertaking actions regime would refrain from. The goal of the paper is to investigate this excessive compliance empirically using the example of the Russian sub-national regimes. Russian regional governors have been strikingly different in this respect: while some merely satisfied the minimal requirements set by the center in terms of supporting its campaigns, others went far beyond what Moscow would have envisioned (e.g., in making anti-Western statements, criticizing Russian opposition or supporting unpopular reform). This excessive loyalism in many cases eroded governors' regional support, while not necessarily yielding them sufficient backing from the center. We explain this variation using two theoretical arguments: costly signaling (with governors consciously making extravagnt claims harming their reputation to show the absolute support to the policies of the center) and experimentation (with governors being uncertain about the preferences of the center and trying to find them out). We use a novel dataset coding the responses of the governors to the pension reform of 2018 - an increase of the retirment age, which was met with massive disapproval by the Russian public - and look at the variation of the level of rhetorical support the governors provided to this initiative of the Kremlin.
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