Costly signaling in autocracy

Robert Carroll, Amy Pond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Those who would revolt against an autocrat often face a dilemma caused by uncertainty: they would like to revolt if the ruler would respond with democratization, but they would prefer to concede if the ruler would choose instead to violently suppress the revolution. Consequently, the autocrat must decide how to best signal his willingness to use violence in hope of deterring revolt. Using a simple signaling model, we find that rulers cannot meaningfully convey their type by transferring wealth to the citizenry. However, they can convey their type through shows of force, as long as the strong type of autocrat–who would use violent repression in the case of revolution–has a competitive advantage in displaying his strength. We additionally demonstrate that rulers favor shows of force when their willingness to suppress revolution is questioned and that citizens at times prefer to pay the direct cost of shows of force to learn about the ruler’s type, rather than to remain uninformed. The results illustrate a more general result in costly signaling models: information transmission is only possible when the cost of the signal is smaller for the type that wants to distinguish himself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-632
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2021


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