Cleavage Formation in Latin American Party Systems

The major theories of democratization have difficulties explaining differences in the consolidation of democracy across Latin America. This project focuses on an important component of representative democracy, the emergence of  party systems that mirror voter preferences. 

I postulate two routes to programmatic party competition. One is historical and took place during the first wave of democratization in the early 20th century, similar to the formation of ideological cleavages in Western Europe. The other is more recent and depends on the presence of new parties that actively seek to overcome clientelistic patterns of mobilization. 

I study the first route by adopting a “Rokkanian” perspective that focuses on critical junctures and historical legacies that set countries apart (Lipset and Rokkan 1967, Rokkan 1999, Collier and Collier 1991). In some countries in Latin America, such as in Chile and Uruguay, strong ideological cleavages emerged during the early steps towards democracy, and this resulted in an early prevalence of programmatic party competition. In other countries, a different historical sequencing allowed the established political elites to maintain clientelistic modes of mobilization. As a result, party systems may remain unresponsive to the demands of the citizenry for decades. It is these party systems that are then vulnerable to the kind of anti-establishment mobilization witnessed in Venezuela. 

The results so far show that the way conflicts were mobilized early on affects the long-term capacity of parties to structure and represent voter preferences. I test these predictions in a quantitative over-time analysis of the quality of representation in ten Latin American countries. But there is also an alternative route to programmatic representation, one that is open even to those countries that lack the favorable historical circumstances of the forerunners in terms of democratic accountability. Consequently, I study how new parties exert pressure on party systems to become more responsive to voter preferences. This line of research is further developed in a new project on the Latin American left. 

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