Academic Profile

People Feature

Melis G. Laebens

Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Politics

I completed my PhD degree in political science at Yale University, and arrived at Nuffield in October 2020. My research centers on democratic backsliding, political parties and electoral behavior, and spans several regions. 

I am currently working on my book manuscript, entitled Incumbents Against Democracy, where I analyze the conditions under which democratically elected incumbents can gradually take over democratic institutions and establish authoritarian control over those without abolishing elections or legislatures. While a relatively large number of democratically elected leaders have attempted to subvert democratic institutions in this gradual and ambiguous way in the last three decades, only a few have succeeded in replacing the democratic regime with an authoritarian regime under their leadership. To explain diverging outcomes, I emphasize differences in incumbents' political strength, focusing on the effectiveness and reliability of their main political instrument, their party. The book draws on several types of data - including survey and election data, elite interviews, archival sources and data on legislator careers - and uses a mixed-methods approach to integrate different kinds of evidence.

In other ongoing work, together with Marcin Ślarzyński (IFiS PAN) we are working on several articles on party politics and democratic backsliding in Poland. The first analyzes how intra-government conflict in the ruling coalition is shaping the government's policy agenda and legislative success. A second piece analyzes the opposition's electoral strategies under the United Right governments, attempting to identify which resources and stratgies were more cirtical to their successes.  

I am also engaged in two survey projects in Turkey. The first is an election survey (conducted together with Aykut Öztürk and Gerasimos Tsourapas) and the second a youth survey (conducted together with Saskia Schäfer, Zeynep Balcıoğlu and Aykut Öztürk). These projects aim to document the transformation of political identities, preferences and behavior in Turkey in the context of ongoing regime change and contestation.

Melis Laebens


2022. "The Erdoğan Government's Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Performance and Actuality in an Authoritarian Context," with Aykut Öztürk, Government and Opposition.

2021. "What halts democratic erosion? The changing role of accountability," with Anna Lührmann, Democratization.

2020. "Partisanship and Autocratization: Polarization, Power Asymmetry and Partisan Social Identites in Turkey," with Aykut Öztürk, Comparative Political Studies.

2020. "Party Organizations in Turkey and Their Consequences for Democracy," in the Oxford Handbook of Turkish Politics (Edited by Güneş Murat Tezcür).