When is democracy an equilibrium? theory and evidence from colombia's la violencia

Mario Chacón, James A. Robinson, Ragnar Torvik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The conventional wisdom is that for a democracy to be consolidated, all groups must have a chance to attain power. If they do not, then they will subvert democracy and choose to fight for power. In this article, the authors show that this wisdom is seriously incomplete because it considers absolute, not relative payoffs. Although the probability of winning an election increases with the size of a group, so does the probability of winning an armed conflict. Thus, in a situation in which all groups have a high chance of winning an election, they may also have a high chance of winning a fight. Indeed, in a natural model, the authors show that democracy may never be consolidated in such a situation. Rather, democracy may only be stable when one group is dominant. The authors explore this key aspect of the theory using data from La Violencia, a political conflict in Colombia during the years 1946-1950 between the Liberal and Conservative parties. Consistent with their results, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the authors show that fighting between the parties was more intense in municipalities where the support of the parties was more evenly balanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-396
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • balance of power
  • democratic consolidation
  • partisan conflict
  • polarization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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