All autocrats rely on inner-circle elites to stay in power. It is commonly assumed that dictators will purge these elites if they unsuccessfully try to unseat the dictator in a coup. However, this assumption has never been tested in a global analysis. Furthermore, little is known about whom dictators target in such purges. This article focuses on the highest levels of the regime, namely, cabinet ministers. Using a new global data set, our analysis covers over 23,000 cabinet members in 115 autocracies from 1967 to 2016. We demonstrate that failed coups induce autocrats to increasingly purge their cabinets and that they do so selectively by targeting higher-ranking cabinet members and those who hold strategic positions, while keeping more loyal and veteran ministers in posts. The article presents the most detailed individual-level evidence to date on purges and offers key insights into power-sharing mechanisms in autocracies.
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