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Multilevel modeling of time-series cross-sectional data reveals the dynamic interaction between ecological threats and democratic development


Kusano, Kodai (2020), Multilevel modeling of time-series cross-sectional data reveals the dynamic interaction between ecological threats and democratic development, Dryad, Dataset,


What is the relationship between environment and democracy? The framework of cultural evolution suggests that societal development is an adaptation to ecological threats. Pertinent theories assume that democracy emerges as societies adapt to ecological factors such as higher economic wealth, lower pathogen threats, less demanding climates, and fewer natural disasters. However, previous research confused within-country processes with between-country processes and erroneously interpreted between-country findings as if they generalize to within-country mechanisms. In this article, we analyze a time-series cross-sectional dataset to study the dynamic relationship between environment and democracy (1949-2016), accounting for previous misconceptions in levels of analysis. By separating within-country processes from between-country processes, we find that the relationship between environment and democracy not only differs by countries but also depends on the level of analysis. Economic wealth predicts increasing levels of democracy in between-country comparisons, but within-country comparisons show that democracy declines as countries become wealthier over time. This relationship is only prevalent among historically wealthy countries but not among historically poor countries, whose wealth also increased over time. By contrast, pathogen prevalence predicts lower levels of democracy in both between-country and within-country comparisons. Our longitudinal analyses identifying temporal precedence reveal that not only reductions in pathogen prevalence drive future democracy, but also democracy reduces future pathogen prevalence and increases future wealth. These nuanced results contrast with previous analyses using narrow, cross-sectional data. As a whole, our findings illuminate the dynamic process by which environment and democracy shape each other.


Our Time-Series Cross-Sectional data combine various online databases. Country names were first identified and matched using R-package “countrycode” (Arel-Bundock, Enevoldsen, & Yetman, 2018) before all datasets were merged. Occasionally, we modified unidentified country names to be consistent across datasets. We then transformed “wide” data into “long” data and merged them using R’s Tidyverse framework (Wickham, 2014). Our analysis begins with the year 1949, which was occasioned by the fact that one of the key time-variant level-1 variables, pathogen prevalence was only available from 1949 on. See our Supplemental Material for all data, Stata syntax, R-markdown for visualization, supplemental analyses and detailed results (available at