Authoritarian regimes become more likely to democratize when they face little choice or little risk. In some cases, the risk of democratization to authoritarian incumbents is so low that ending authoritarianism might not mean exiting power at all. This article develops a unified theory of authoritarian-led democratization under conditions of relatively low incumbent risk. We argue that the party strength of the authoritarian incumbent is the most pivotal factor in authoritarian-led democratization. When incumbent party strength has been substantial enough to give incumbent authoritarian politicians significant electoral victory confidence, nondemocratic regimes have pursued reversible democratic experiments that eventually culminated in stable, thriving democracies. Evidence from Europe's first wave of democratization and more recent democratic transitions in Taiwan and Ghana illustrate how party strength has underpinned authoritarian-led democratization across the world and across modern history.


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