The Demand for Protectionism: Democracy, Import Elasticity, and Trade Barriers

Timothy M. Peterson, Cameron G. Thies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Numerous studies suggest that democracies employ lower trade barriers than nondemocracies. In this article, we examine the conditioning role that the elasticity of import demand at the commodity level plays on the relationship between democracy and import barriers. Beginning with the assumption that democracies are more responsive than nondemocracies to the preferences of mass publics, we demonstrate that the value of free trade as a public good depends on the elasticity of import demand. When import demand for a given commodity is inelastic, trade barriers are more harmful to consumers; as such, democracies will employ lower trade barriers than nondemocracies. However, as import demand becomes more elastic, publics find it easier to adjust to higher prices; as a result, the difference in imposed trade barriers by regime type decreases. We find support for this argument in statistical analyses of crosssectional data covering 4,656 commodities imported by 73 countries Furthermore, we find that democracies raise higher trade barriers than nondemocracies on commodities for which import demand is very elastic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-126
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • democracy
  • international political economy
  • trade

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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