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Party Members and Activists in Latin America  

Carlos Meléndez and Sebastián Umpierrez de Reguero

Despite existing literature that often conflates the terms party membership and party activism, the first is a formal ascription with a given party organization, while the second entails a set of practices, whether sporadic, informal, or devoted, that (a group of) individuals perform to support a political party either during an electoral campaign or more permanently, independently of being enrolled in the party or not. Party members and activists can be analyzed from both the normative model of democracy and the inner functioning of political parties. Focusing on Latin America, party membership and party activism are related to various types of party organizations, social cleavages, and party identification. Individuals join, and/or work for, parties to gain tangible benefits, information, social advantages, and influence, as well as mental satisfaction, without which they could lose financial resources, time, and alternative opportunities. Moreover, prior contributions on party membership and activism based on Latin American countries has emphasized the functions party supporters have as connectors between the citizenry and the party organizations. In this regard, scholars conceive members’ participation not only as a mechanism for party rootedness (“vertical” function), but also as a connection between social and partisan arenas (“horizontal” function). In the region, the research area of party membership and activism portrays virtues and limitations in methodological terms both at the aggregate and the individual level. As a future research agenda, party membership and activism in Latin America should be further studied using comparative strategies, avoiding the pitfalls of public opinion research, not to mention making additional efforts to keep the two terms conceptually distinct. Also, party members and activists can be explored in transnational perspective, joining forces with the blooming literature of political party abroad.

Article

Clientelism in Latin American Politics  

Ezequiel Gonzalez-Ocantos and Virginia Oliveros

Clientelism is a type of nonprogrammatic linkage strategy that political parties deploy to win elections. Specifically, the concept refers to the personalized and discretionary exchange of goods or favors for political support. Scholars of comparative politics investigate variation in the prevalence of clientelism across countries, as well as the organizations that parties create to distribute personalized gifts and favors. A large body of work also studies the types of voters more commonly targeted by machines. The debates about the determinants of clientelism and specific targeting patterns are important because they inform broader discussions about democratic quality in Latin America and other developing regions, where nonprogrammatic linkages such as clientelism are common. In particular, the literature on clientelism has implications for discussions about the use and misuse of public and private funds to support electoral efforts. It also raises questions about the ability of citizens to vote their conscience and hold politicians accountable in the privacy of the voting booth.

Article

Strategic Voting Versus Sincere Voting  

Damien Bol and Tom Verthé

People do not always vote for the party that they like the most. Sometimes, they choose to vote for another one because they want to maximize their influence on the outcome of the election. This behavior driven by strategic considerations is often labeled as “strategic voting.” It is opposed to “sincere voting,” which refers to the act of voting for one’s favorite party. Strategic voting can take different forms. It can consist in deserting a small party for a bigger one that has more chances of forming the government, or to the contrary, deserting a big party for a smaller one in order to send a signal to the political class. More importantly the strategies employed by voters differ across electoral systems. The presence of frequent government coalitions in proportional representation systems gives different opportunities, or ways, for people to influence the electoral outcome with their vote. In total, the literature identifies four main forms of strategic voting. Some of them are specific to some electoral systems; others apply to all.

Article

Populist Politics in Africa  

Danielle Resnick

Although widely used in reference to the Americas and Europe, the concept of populism has been less frequently applied to political dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa. Populism is variously viewed as a political strategy aimed at fostering direct links between a leader and the masses, an ideational concept that relies on discourses that conjure a corrupt elite and the pure people, and a set of socio-cultural performances characterized by a leader’s charisma, theatrics, and transgression of accepted norms. A cumulative approach that combines all three perspectives allows for identifying episodes of populism in Africa. These include historical cases of populist regimes in the 1980s as well as more contemporary examples of party leaders in the region’s democracies who use populism in their electoral campaigns to mobilize subaltern groups, especially those living in urban areas. As found in other regions of the world, those African leaders who have ascended to the presidency on the back of populism typically exert anti-democratic practices once in office. This reaffirms that populism can allow for greater representation of the poor and marginalized in the electoral process, but that populists’ celebration of popular will and supposedly unmediated ties to the people become convenient justifications for bypassing established institutions and undermining the rule of law.