The workshop discussion centered mainly around thorny problems of endogeneity. The first such problem raised was the issue of term limits. The dataset included countries of all regime types, and term limits are a common feature of democracies. Thus, the relationship between repression and leadership tenure that the model predicts may be driven by the regular rotation of leaders in term-limited democracies as opposed to the "irregular exits"--coups, revolutions, regime collapse, etc.--that the authors seek to identify. Participants suggested several helpful solutions, such as controlling for the existence of term limits or restricting the set of cases to leaders who sustained "irregular exits."
Another concern was endogeneity between repression and a leader's political strength. Leaders that repress may simply be less likely to maintain long tenures in office because of their inherent weaknesses or a lack of political support to begin with. Although a challenging problem to overcome, participants recommended identifying countries at moments of political crises that reacted in divergent ways (i.e. used repression or an alternative strategy to respond to the crisis) in order to better identify the effect of repression on leadership tenure. Such a method would allow one to identify potential counterfactual scenarios and would be a source of leverage for causal inference.
Endogeneity issues aside, this paper is the first to systematically test the assumption that leaders who repress are motivated by a desire to remain in power over the long-term. The finding that repression shortens tenure of political leaders undermines the principle justification for government coercion in the literature on state repression. Such a finding implores scholars of state repression to reevaluate existing theories about the motivations of state repression and to explore the importance of potential alternative reasons: leaders perceive that repression works or repress primarily to ensure the concentration of wealth/resources among a small coalition of elites.