Leadership Change and the Power of Domestic Audiences: A Game Theoretic Account of Escalation and De-escalation in Civil Conflicts

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While changes in leadership appear to affect the conflictual or cooperative character of government-dissident relations, and the study of leadership has been a cornerstone of social science from Weber to Neustadt, studies of civil conflict leave the issue of leadership largely unexplored. This article represents a first effort to develop a theory of leadership change in the unique context of violent intrastate politics. Specifically, with respect to civil conflict, how do changes in leadership affect the choices made by dissident groups and the governments they confront? Can changes in leadership help explain the often unpredicted conflictual and cooperative directions that civil conflicts take? Using formal modeling, this article specifies conditions under which leadership changes may affect the course of a civil conflict. Under certain conditions, changes in leadership will signal a desire for cooperation and prompt opposing leaders to reorient their own domestic audiences in order to reciprocate. This argument is empirically examined through case-study plausibility probes. Policy implications include an improved understanding of the mechanisms directing political dissent and dissident choices and, in so doing, pointing to means of resolving or preventing large-scale political violence within states.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-134
Number of pages25
JournalAfrican Security
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2014


  • Angola, audience costs, civil conflict, formal model, Leadership change, South Africa