The King Can Do No Wrong: Delegation and Blame under Authoritarian Rule.

Research on blame avoidance suggests that dictators should struggle to avoid blame for poor governance outcomes because of their significant and highly visible powers, yet many dictators appear to evade the public’s attributions of responsibility even as their states confront significant economic and political challenges. This ability of some autocrats to avoid blame more effectively than others has important implications for understanding patterns of opposition and regime survival under autocracy. My dissertation book project explores this issue by evaluating how individuals attribute responsibility in authoritarian political systems and how these attributions shape interactions between the dictator, elites, and the public. Specifically, I show that dictators can minimize their exposure to blame successfully by ceding control over policy design and implementation, and I demonstrate that this possibility influences when and for which issue domains dictators are willing to share power with other elites. I also argue that autocratic monarchs are better positioned than other dictators to utilize delegation effectively as a blame avoidance strategy, which helps to explain the surprising robustness of royal rule in the modern period. The project sheds light on how, when, and why dictators are able to evade accountability for the poor performance of their regimes.

The empirical components of the dissertation are organized into three parts. The first involves a detailed case study of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, based on one year of fieldwork in the country. Evidence for the case study is drawn from more than 100 elite interviews, text analysis of documents from official Jordanian government websites, original survey and experimental data, Google Trends, the Arab Barometer surveys, and archival research in the National Library of Jordan and the National Archives of the United Kingdom. The second part demonstrates the applicability of the theory to autocracies generally, drawing on additional case studies and cross-national autocracy data. The third part analyzes my argument that authoritarian monarchs are more capable of using delegation as a blame avoidance strategy. Here, I utilize a case comparison of blame avoidance dynamics in Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt that leverages process tracing, survey data, and experimental evidence. I reinforce these findings with additional cross-national autocracy data, before concluding the dissertation with a chapter that applies the theory to patterns of political change within historical monarchies from Europe and the Middle East.