Lessons from Latin America: Democratic Breakdown and Survival

Issue Date April 2013
Volume 24
Issue 2
Page Numbers 123-137
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Why do democracies survive or break down? In this paper, we return to this classic question with an empirical focus on Latin America from 1945 to 2005. Our argument deviates from the quantitative literature and a good part of the qualitative literature on democratic survival and breakdown. We argue that structural variables such as the level of development and inequalities have not shaped prospects for democratic survival in Latin America. Nor, contrary to findings in some of the literature, has economic performance affected the survival of competitive regimes. Instead, we focus on the regional political environment and on actors’ normative preferences about democracy and dictatorship and their policy radicalism or moderation. We argue that 1) a higher level of development did not increase the likelihood of democratic survival in Latin America over this long time; 2) if actors have a normative preference for democracy, it is more likely to survive; and 3) policy moderation facilitates democratic survival.

About the Authors

Scott Mainwaring

Scott Mainwaring is Eugene and Helen Conley Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.

View all work by Scott Mainwaring

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán

Aníbal Pérez-Liñán is professor of political science and global affairs at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author (with Scott Mainwaring) of “Cross-Currents in Latin America,” which appeared in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

View all work by Aníbal Pérez-Liñán