AJPS Author Summary: Remittances and Protest in Dictatorships

By Abel Escribà‐Folch, Covadonga Meseguer, and Joseph Wright

Remittances and Protest in DictatorshipsCan migrant remittances foster political change in recipient countries? Do they contribute to empowering citizens? Our research seeks to answer these questions by exploring the relationship between remittance inflows and anti-incumbent protest. We conclude that remittances increase the probability of anti-incumbent mobilization in autocracies. Interestingly, we find that within autocracies, remittance recipients are more likely to mobilize against autocrats in pro-opposition districts. Contrary to the extended view suggesting that remittances induce disengagement from politics by providing families with additional income, we argue that remittances increase political protest in non-democracies by augmenting the resources available to potential political opponents.

For many developing countries, remittances are the second if not the first source of unearned foreign income. Indeed, in 2016, according to UNCTAD and World Bank data, developing countries received $646 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), while remittances totaled $445 billion. While economists have explored the economic consequences of remittances in home countries for decades, political scientists have, save for a few exceptions, conspicuously ignored the political consequences that remittances may have in their countries of origin. Remittances are private transfers between emigrants and their relatives left behind. As a result, social scientists often portrayed them as free from involvement by government middlemen, in contrast with other sources of unearned foreign income such as aid or oil rents. But what does this imply in terms of the domestic political consequences of these flows?

In our article, we use novel data on anti-incumbent protests in 102 countries in the period 1976–2010 to show that remittances increase the likelihood of anti-incumbent protest in autocracies, where groups have limited access to resources and institutionalized mechanisms for voicing demands are constrained, but not in democracies. Moreover, using subnational data on eight sub-Saharan autocracies in 2008, we spell out the conditions under which protest in autocratic regimes is more likely to occur. In particular, we contend that remittances activate protest in opposition districts, where dissatisfaction with incumbent governments is likely to be higher. This effect is not, however, present in non-opposition regions. In other words, the availability of extra resources in the form of remittances is not enough to spur contentious political activities. Insofar as protests in autocratic regimes are a major factor conducive to regime change, our article shows that remittances can be a factor triggering transitions to democracy in autocratic regimes.

About the Authors: Abel Escribà-Folch is Associate Professor at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Covadonga Meseguer is Associate Professor of International Relations at London School of Economics and Political Science, and Joseph Wright is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Pennsylvania State University. Their research “Remittances and Protest in Dictatorships” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.