The Politics of Polarization: Governance and Party System Change in Latin America, 1990-2010

Kellogg Institute Working Paper #401, University of Notre Dame

47 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2015

Date Written: September 15, 2014

Abstract

What are the causes and implications of polarization in new democracies? During Latin America’s “Left Turn” period, highly polarized party systems emerged in some countries – Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and El Salvador – but not the rest of the region. This paper proposes a theory to explain variation, centered on the presence of electorally relevant parties of the left in the pre-Left Turn period and, most critically, the quality of governance in that period. Poor governance created opportunities for partisan actors on the left to politicize a second dimension of political contestation, anti-systemic versus systemic positions on the design and operation of the state, and thus chart alternative paths to electoral viability that required little left-right programmatic moderation. This dynamic empowered radical party factions and drove polarizing dynamics in party systems. High quality governance, in contrast, gave left parties little choice but to moderate their programs in search of electoral viability. This dynamic empowered moderate party factions and drove centripetal dynamics in party systems. Empirically, the paper tests these arguments through a broad overview of the case universe and in-depth case studies of Venezuela and Brazil.

Suggested Citation

Handlin, Samuel, The Politics of Polarization: Governance and Party System Change in Latin America, 1990-2010 (September 15, 2014). Kellogg Institute Working Paper #401, University of Notre Dame. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2546199 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2546199

Samuel Handlin (Contact Author)

University of Utah ( email )

260 S. Central Campus Drive, Room 252
Salt Lake City, UT 84112
United States

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