Shocking Noncompliance? Effects of Extreme Events on Constitutional Compliance

It is often argued that governments take advantage of extreme events to expand their power to the detriment of the political opposition and citizens at large. Violations of constitutional constraints are a clear indication of such opportunistic behavior. We study whether natural disasters, conflicts, and other extreme events systematically diminish governments’ compliance with constitutional constraints. Our results indicate that governments are most likely to overstep their competences or disregard their responsibilities during civil conflicts and successful coups d’état. Interestingly, Cold War interventions by the United States that installed or supported a political leader led to a decrease in constitutional compliance in the target country, whereas Soviet interventions had no such effect. In contrast, banking crises and natural disasters, which threaten societies at large, but not necessarily the political elite, do not cause a significant decline in constitutional compliance.