It's Good to Be King: Ruler Type and Perceptions of Democracy in Authoritarian Regimes

This paper argues that individuals think differently about different kinds of political leaders in ways that influence evaluations of democracy in their political systems. Specifically, people expect presidents but not kings to represent the people by facing political competition for their position. These expectations make it easier for autocratic monarchs to obscure their authoritarianism relative to autocratic presidents, reducing their vulnerability to demands for democratic governance. A survey experiment implemented in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia provides evidence that people think differently about monarchs and presidents, and observational survey data from the Arab Barometer demonstrates that citizens of authoritarian monarchies are significantly more likely to believe their regimes are democratic. A case study of Egypt and Jordan connects these beliefs to opposition during the Arab Spring. The paper indicates the importance of studying how institutions shape authoritarian regime durability by influencing the public's perceptions of how they are being governed.