Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Julie George

Committee Members

Till Weber

Jillian Schwedler

Sebnem Gumuscu

Michael Lee

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics | Models and Methods


democratic backsliding, authoritarian politics, Turkey, text analysis, Twitter sentiment analysis, economic class conflict


This dissertation examines democratic backsliding using a coalitional approach. It takes as its analytical focus the pro- or anti-democratic attitudes of elites and mass-constituencies across four chapters. The first chapter studies the class dynamics of regime change using all available survey data covering 137 countries. It finds that the democratic attitudes of economic elites have the strongest impact on future within-country changes in the level of democracy. The second chapter shifts to a paradigmatic case of democratic backsliding, Turkey, and analyzes the social and economic explanations for the formation of a cross-class authoritarian coalition. It finds evidence that parties on the right—which have been the main actors responsible for democratic backsliding in the past two decades—bring together a coalition of economic elites and nationalist social groups. The former get their preferred economic policy and the latter are paid in cultural concessions. The third chapter uses sentiment analysis to evaluate the attitudes and behavior of political elites. Specifically, it finds that Erdogan’s presidential advisors are the most authoritarian actors within Turkey’s ruling party and appear to be responding to their institutional incentives by doubling down on loyalty to Erdogan. These advisors form a distinct locus of power that aids Erdogan in sidelining institutions that can enforce horizontal accountability. The fourth chapter combines sentiment and network analysis to investigate why over 100 elites left the AKP despite its continuing dominance. It finds that members within the ruling party who demonstrate a commitment to institutional democracy are more likely to push back against Erdogan’s personalization of political power.

This dissertation’s contributions therefore include developing a coalitional approach that improves our understanding of democratic backsliding, as well as innovating new methodological approaches for observing elites’ attitudes and networks. The framework chapter introduces the logic of the coalitional approach, summarizes the literature on democratic backsliding, and outlines the contributions of the four chapters.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Tuesday, September 30, 2025

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