How Do Democracies Turn Into Dictatorships?

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Ways Dictators Come to Power in a Democracy

Dictators may rise to power in a democracy through several ways. One way is the result of political polarization, where the competing political sides no longer want to cooperate with one another, allowing violent or extremist groups to take over politics instead. 

A democracy can also fall when a country’s elites feel that democracy no longer “works” for them. When these elites feel that losing an election may mean forfeiting their power and influence over the country, they may seek to take over the country by force, turning it into a dictatorship. Or, democracies can fall the other (more subtle) way, when elites first grab on to power via democratic means, before then stripping away democratic rights


Another important part of preventing democracy from turning into a dictatorship is to resist the allure of political “strongmen.” These figures enter the political stage often claiming to be an outsider to the political establishment, and vowing to “get tough” on everyone that is apparently sapping the nation’s strength, thereby “saving” the nation.

Ultimately, the best way to protect democracies against becoming a dictatorship is to continue embracing democratic practices. Voters need to make conscientious electoral choices that reject candidates or political groups that threaten to undermine the democratic process. Maintaining democracy requires voters to become yet more steadfast in their empathy towards others and participating in national politics with a frame of mind towards cooperation and understanding.


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