Empirical Study on Impact of Global ICT Use on Democratic Tendency

Important: The econometric analysis of this paper has received serious criticisms. My contribution to the paper was threefold: (1) the literature review, (2) the recommendation that autocratic regimes be included separately in the analysis, and (3) the interpretation of the results. Hence my being second-author. I had no involvement in the econometric analysis and do not have access to the data in order to improve the analysis. I am therefore removing my name and affiliation from this study.

I recently co-authored a study on the impact of new Information and Communication Technology (ICT) on Democratic Tendency. The study was presented at the 3rd International Conference on ICT for Development (ICTD2009) in Doha, Qatar, earlier this year.

The study asks whether the rapid increase in global Internet access has any democratizing effect? Unlike (the few) earlier studies that sought to explore this question, this study draws on multiple perception-based measures of governance from the World Bank to assess the Internet’s effect on the process of democratization.

ICT Impact on All Countries

The results of the large-N regression analysis suggest that the level of “Voice & Accountability” in a country increases with Internet use, while the level of “Political Stability” decreases with increasing Internet use. Additionally, Internet use was found to increase significantly for countries with increasing levels of “Voice & Accountability.”

In contrast, “Rule of Law” was not significantly affected by a country’s level of Internet use. Increasing cell phone use did not seem to affect either “Voice & Accountability,” “Political Stability” or “Rule of Law.” In turn, cell phone use was not affected by any of these three measures of democratic tendency.

ICT Impact on Autocracies

Given the focus of my dissertation research, we also assessed the impact of new ICTs on autocratic regimes and  noted a significant negative effect of Internet and cell phone use on “Political Stability.” We didn’t include this in our final conference paper (PDF) due to space constraints, so I’d like to share the results publicly here.

We selected autocratic regimes from our dataset using the Polity IV dataset—any country that did not score a “0″ on the measure of autocratic tendency was included. This measure produced a total of 68 countries in this section of the study. Table VIII below displays the results from estimating the model that predicts levels of “Voice & Accountability” (VA), “Political Stability” (PS) and “Rule of Law” (RL) from Internet use and the control variables.

Picture 2As the results above show, a statistically significant negative relationship exists between the diffusion of Internet and access and “Political Stability”. The coefficient, -0.0085, is larger than the statistically significant coefficient of -0.0025 found when all countries are included in the analysis. This suggests that the Internet has a greater destabilizing effect in autocracies rather than globally.

Picture 3

The findings in Table IX above reveal that the increase in cell phone use also has a destabilizing effect on autocracies, although the effect, -0.0026, is not as large as the one found for increasing Internet use. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note that there was no statistically significant relationship between cell phone use and “Political Stability” in the previous model which included all 181 countries. This would suggest that cell phones do play a more important role in contributing to “Political Instability” in autocracies.


In sum, the empirical analysis of autocracies also yielded interesting findings. Increasing Internet use in countries under autocratic rule appears to lead a statistically significant increase in “Political Instability.” So does an increase in cell phone use.

Furthermore, when testing for reverse causality, the analysis revealed that an increase in “Political Stability” within in autocratic regimes leads to a notable decrease in both Internet and cell phone use. This may reflect the fact that increased political stability in autocracies means stronger coercive rule.

Patrick Philippe Meier

14 responses to “Empirical Study on Impact of Global ICT Use on Democratic Tendency

  1. but is “political instability” in “autocratic regimes” good or bad? is a period of turbulence necessary for the possibility of transition to a new political system?

  2. Hi Yishay, thank for you question.

    Democratic change theory suggests that the process of democratization is accompanied by instability. But i think the answer to the question you pose is highly dependent on context.

  3. so there’s one point where democratic change theory would agree with Marxism :)
    But, as we saw in Iran – while instability may be a necessary condition, it is certainly not sufficient.

  4. Forgive me if the question is naive but: what is the definition of ‘political instability’ in this context?

    From the intuitive meaning I get, it looks to me like ‘transition to a new political system’ always implies ‘political instability’, as the political institutions change and this always has a costly effect on people’s lives.

    If ‘political instability’ is more along the lines of ‘security’,’lack of riots’, etc; then I think there have been several examples of pacific democratisation in Europe in the last 40 years (both East and West), so I guess that is not the point. :-)

    So I still do not know the answer to yishaym’s question. O:-) Is political instability good or bad in autocratic regimes? Maybe it is bad (it has a cost), but sometime it is a cost to pay for a greater good?

  5. Thank you very much for the definition. :-)

    In that case, I wonder if quite peaceful transitions to democracy like those of Portugal (70s), Spain (70-80s), or Poland (90s) would have had high scores in political instability before they happened. :-)

    Maybe they would because the change was brought in by unconstitutional means? But is this a pleonasm? No autocratic constitution (when there is one) will provide the mechanisms to overthrow the system, right? ;-)

    Or maybe they would not because the transition was not violent, and was not preceded by high levels of social violence?

    In the second case, this somehow contradicts IMHO your first statement (“the process of democratization is accompanied by [political] instability”) but is in line with your other statement (” the answer (…) is highly dependent on context”). O:-)

    Sorry if my questions are naive! ;-)

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  7. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing this, Patrick. What an interesting question this raises – what is the role of instability in autocratic/potentially transitioning societies?

    It’s so good to have an empirical study on the impact of ICT in this realm. Your finding can certainly be supported by the anecdotal evidence from the 2007 Saffron Uprising in Burma … did you see my article which published in three parts on MobileActive?


    As always, it’s an honor to be privy to your research.

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  9. I just read your conference paper, and I have to say I am a little confused. This may just be because I am not well-versed in statistics. Your DV is ICT, and your IVs are the three Governance measures and some other ICT-related variables. But your lit review and findings discuss the Governance measures. Doesn’t your model really show predictors of the spread of internet and cell phone use? That’s an entirely different topic than democratization.

    The bit in this post on autocratic regimes seems to put the democracy variables on the correct side of the equation, but the models look under-specified. Are you only using GDP and population as your only control variables here, or are there others that you used but just did not mention here?

  10. Dear sir, i am 24years ismailibrahim from ghana, in will like to ICT in your industry,please i will like to get more information in your courses,

    thank you

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