Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 2 > Issue 1

State Capacity and Political Participation: The Long Shadow of Ottoman Legacy

Konstantinos Matakos, Department of Political Economy, King's College London, UK, , Sevinç Bermek, Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK, , Riikka Savolainen, School of Social Sciences, Swansea University, UK,
Suggested Citation
Konstantinos Matakos, Sevinç Bermek and Riikka Savolainen (2022), "State Capacity and Political Participation: The Long Shadow of Ottoman Legacy", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 2: No. 1, pp 159-187.

Publication Date: 21 Feb 2022
© 2022 K. Matakos, S. Bermek, and R. Savolainen
Electoral behavior,  Political participation
Imperial legacyOttoman reformsparty–group linkagesstate capacityturnout


Login to download a free copy
In this article:
Literature Review 
Institutional Background 
Data and Empirical Strategy 
Discussion and Concluding Remarks 


What are the historical legacies of the early 19th century on state modernization and capacity-building efforts, and did they produce any unintended consequences? We focus on the Ottoman Tanzimât reforms — an attempt to modernize the bureaucracy and build fiscal (and military) state capacity following the Napoleonic paradigm — and explore their legacy on political participation in the modern Greece. We first show that the presence of an Ottoman administrative headquarter (sanjak) — the basis of the Tanzimât reforms — within current Greek NUTS-3 regions is associated with higher levels of public sector employment even to this day. We then exploit the retrospective revision of Greece's past public finances in 2010 as a natural experiment; this changed voters' expectations about future public sector job creation differentially across high and low public sector regions, leading to a larger decline in the turnout in the former. We link this differential decline in political participation to the Ottoman legacy of bureaucratic reforms as this effect is driven by those NUTS-3 regions that used to host Ottoman administrative hubs. We provide suggestive evidence of a possible mechanism based on voters' ego-tropic motivations: the expectation of deeper public spending cuts (due to the surprise revelation of past deficits) weakened the historically strong party–voter linkages (dating back to the 19th century) and reduced political participation. In contrast, we find no evidence that other socio-tropic factors can account for the differential change in the turnout across the two groups of regions. Our findings highlight that, in addition to civic-duty motivations, electoral participation and political engagement are also a strategic decision driven by ego-tropic motivations (at least for some voters). The normative implication is that higher voter turnout need not always be a sign of a robust and functioning polity.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 2, Issue 1 Special Issue - Historical Persistence, Part II: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.