Populism and Democratic Erosion in Latin America

Graduate Research Grant
Grant Year

Populist leaders have varied in the extent to which they produced democratic erosion in Latin America. My first hypothesis argues that if populist leaders start co-opting the judiciary in the early stages of the process, the Executive will be successful in dismantling other democratic institutions. This will unleash a radicalization process in which the opposition will resort to extra-institutional strategies. Since the populist leader still needs to neutralize opposition’s challenges, my second hypothesis focuses on the repressive state apparatus. If the Executive is successful in co-opting the Armed Forces and the police, the opposition’s efforts to stop the populist leader will likely fail and the country will experience extensive erosion. I use process tracing and counterfactual analysis to test these hypotheses in three Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, and Venezuela) where populist leaders have differed in the extent to which they have produced democratic erosion.