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Ruthless Rulers: Coalition Size and the Severity of Civil Conflict

Lindsay Heger, Idean Salehyan
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2478.2007.00456.x 385-403 First published online: 1 June 2007


What explains the level of violence during civil wars? In this paper, we argue that the size of the ruling coalition is a critical determinant of the severity of conflict. To maintain control over patronage, elites will fight to ward off challengers. The degree to which they use coercion hinges upon the level of private benefits they receive, which is in turn determined by coalition size. Further, we expect democracies to be more constrained in their use of force due to larger government coalitions and constraints on power. To proxy for coalition size, we use new data on the ethnic affiliation of heads of state. An empirical analysis of over 200 armed civil conflicts reveals that conflicts involving smaller ruling coalitions yield a greater number of deaths.

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