The Effects of Across-Regime Interpersonal Contact on the Support for Authoritarian Regimes


February 1, 2019, 14:00–15:30


Room MS001

Job Market Seminar


What shapes the ideology of individuals in non-democratic societies and how do changes in such attitudes affect outcomes during democratic transitions? This paper investigates the effects of a policy that had a large impact on individuals' value systems in a non-democratic regime. In 1972, the East German Communist regime agreed to a policy that facilitated visits by West Germans. I implement a spatial regression discontinuity design that exploits geographic variation in the level of travel restrictions across East German districts. First, I find that districts with fewer travel restrictions received indeed more visits from West Germany. Second, I find that during the democratic transition, districts with fewer travel restrictions: (i) exhibited more protest and lower electoral support for the Communist regime; (ii) displayed a value system less aligned with the one promoted by the East German regime; (iii) expressed greater demand for democracy. The evidence suggests that interpersonal, across-regime contact is a powerful way to change attitudes of citizens living under non-democratic regimes, and that these changes can have important consequences for the way in which democratic transitions unfold.

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