Research / BFI Working PaperAug 09, 2019

The Geography of Dictatorship and Support for Democracy

Maria Angélica Bautista, Felipe González, Luis Martínez, Pablo Muñoz, Mounu Prem

We show that proximity to military bases during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile (1973-1990) exposed civilians to more state repression and led to (i) stronger electoral opposition to Pinochet and (ii) a longlasting strengthening of democratic values. Our empirical strategy exploits the location of military bases during the many decades of democratic rule before the military coup, which we show is unrelated to pre-coup electoral outcomes. We find that residents of counties housing these bases both registered and voted “No” to Pinochet’s continuation in power at higher rates in the crucial 1988 plebiscite that bolstered the democratic transition. These counties also experienced more civilian deaths and forced disappearances during the dictatorship, indicating that increased exposure to repression affected voters’ behavior. After democratization, residents of these counties who were exposed to the military coup report greater support for democracy in surveys, but there are no persistent effects on electoral outcomes.

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