The Populist Syndrome: Critical Junctures and Parallel Paths in Latin America and Post-communist Europe
Binev, Binio Slavov
Howard, Marc M
Recent waves of populism raise urgent questions about political stability across the world. Why are populists more electorally viable in some liberal democracies than in others, and why do only some electorally successful populists manage to establish long-term domination over political systems? This dissertation offers answers by applying a critical juncture approach in a novel way linking agency and structure into a probabilistic explanation of divergent outcomes in Latin America and post-communist Europe. I argue that political agency during critical junctures of market reform shaped ensuing opportunity structures by conditioning the ideological positioning and variable electoral performance of “traditional” center-left political actors. In turn, variable opportunity structures were either resources for or constraints on the electoral viability of subsequent populists driven by incentives to maximize anti-establishment legitimacy and endowed with unique organizational capacities for adaptation. Put simply, where critical juncture dynamics led to center-left decline, populist electoral power was more likely in both regions.Part I deals with conceptualization, measurement, and theory. Having measured populism empirically based on an original family resemblance conceptualization and having identified variation across both regions, I advance a historically contingent theory of institutional development. Part II examines the theory quantitatively – by disaggregating party systems into center-left and center-right pillars, by analyzing developments in thirty-three democracies, and by testing the hypothesized causal relationships against rival explanations focused solely on structural, rational, cultural, institutional, or international relations factors. Part III employs paired comparisons to uncover variable mechanisms linking critical junctures and populist outcomes. By identifying parallel paths – towards long-term populist domination in Ecuador and Slovakia and towards secondary-role populism in Peru and Poland – I demonstrate similar processes regardless of contextual peculiarities and engage in theory-building about how critical junctures shape divergent social coalitions and populist outcomes.Overall, this dissertation employs a mixed-methods strategy to argue for a renewed focus on societies as arenas that reflect complex interactions between agency, structure, and institutions. It uses an array of quantitative and qualitative data, including original datasets on populist attributes, economic liberalization, electoral volatility, and party nationalization, as well as 100 interviews from fieldwork in Ecuador, Peru, Poland, and Slovakia.
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