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Working paper

From Competition to Dominance: Political Determinations of Federal Transfers in Russian Federation

Marques II I., Nazrullaeva E., Yakovlev A. A.
The recent uprisings in the Middle East have cast doubt on the degree to which existing theories of autocracy can correctly identify which groups threaten the autocrats rule at any given time. As a result, these theories are unable to predict fundamental upheavals in established autocracies. Who is the biggest threat to the autocrat, though, the elite or the populations as a whole? In this paper, we evaluate how autocrats respond to perceived threats from the population and elites. We advance the argument that elites with autonomous power resources – economic assets, connections to regional elite networks, etc. – and swing voters, who are easily co-opted to cause problems for the regime, are likely perceived as the greatest threats. We also argue that to the extent that economic growth generates support for the incumbent, in this case the autocrat, actors in areas with high growth will, all else equal, be perceived as posing less of a threat to the autocrat than those in slow growth areas. We assume autocrats put their money where their mouths are and test our argument using the combination of data on federal-regional transfers in the Russian federation between 2001 and 2008 and a novel dataset of regional executive level characteristics. We find limited support for our arguments. On the one hand, transfers do go to politically powerful governors, while growth diminishes the impact of measures of voters preferences on transfers. On the other hand, we find evidence that transfers were aimed towards core, not swing voters, and that powerful regional elites tended to get more transfers, not less, in fast growing regions.