Why Democracy Needs a Level Playing Field

Issue Date January 2010
Volume 21
Issue 1
Page Numbers 57-68
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Read the full essay here.

An uneven playing field is a central, yet underappreciated, component of contemporary authoritarianism. In many regimes, democratic competition is undermined less by fraud or repression than by unequal access to resources, media, and state institutions. When opposition are denied access to finance and mass media, their ability to compete in elections—and survive between elections—is often impaired. Where the playing field is skewed, the weakening, collapse, and/or cooptation of resource-starved parties may effectively depopulate the opposition, even in the absence of large-scale repression. A skewed playing field may thus allow autocrats to maintain power without resorting to the kind of fraud or repression that can undermine their international standing, allowing them, in effect, to have their cake and eat it too.

About the Authors

Lucan A. Way

Lucan Way is Distinguished Professor of Democracy at the University of Toronto, co-director of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

View all work by Lucan A. Way

Steven Levitsky

Steven Levitsky is professor of government at Harvard University and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

View all work by Steven Levitsky