Trade-Offs and Public Support for Security Reform during Democratic Transitions

In: Middle East Law and Governance
Nicholas J. Lotito Yale University,

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During democratic transitions, newly elected governments face public demands to reform the institutions of the old regime, especially the security forces; yet, these reforms often fail. I argue that politicians define policy issues in ways that maximize popular support for their own positions through well-established processes of elite issue framing. Politicians can reduce popular demand for difficult and costly reforms of the security forces by framing them as trade-offs with other types of reform. The argument is tested with original survey data from Tunisia, an important contemporary case of democratic transition. An embedded vignette experiment primes existing issue frames by asking respondents to adjudicate between investments in security reform versus economic or political reform. I find that framing a trade-off with a more popular policy, economic development, reduces public demand for security reform. These findings have important implications for security sector reform and democratic consolidation in Tunisia and beyond.

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