The ‘Left Turn’ in Latin America and Party System Responsiveness

In a prior project, we studied two routes that result in responsive party systems, one historical and one open even to those countries that lack the favorable historical preconditions of the forerunners in terms of responsiveness. Along the historical route, left-wing parties with strong ideological credentials were able to challenge the established political forces in some countries in the early 20th century. Gradually, this crowded out the clientelistic linkages between voters and political patrons that represent the main impediment to programmatic responsiveness. In this new project, we look at a similar process observable since the process of re-democratization swept Latin America in the 1980s. Although tentatively addressed in the prior project, this process is complicated by the fact that two very different types of left parties have emerged in contemporary Latin America. Although theorizing the distinction between the “moderate” and the “populist” or “radical” left has become a major research topic in recent years, little research has been conducted on the impact these two types of new leftist parties have on the party system as a whole, and more specifically on the levels of responsiveness it exhibits. This project contributes to these issues in three ways: It develops the difference between the moderate and the populist left in theoretical terms, expands our prior empirical analyses in temporal terms, and explores the dualism of programmatic (responsiveness-enhancing) and clientelistic (responsiveness-blurring) mobilization strategies.