Research

Summary

Transitions to democracy rarely mark a complete break with authoritarianism. More often than not, new democracies remain entangled in authoritarian legacies that profoundly shape political life, often for decades. My main line of research combines qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate these legacies, explaining their persistence and examining their impact on important material and governance outcomes in new democracies. I am also interested in politics in authoritarianism and new democracies, democratic quality, political parties, and distributive politics.

Book Manuscript: The Strategic Foundations of Authoritarian Successor Parties

After stepping down, authoritarian leaders often continue to exert influence through authoritarian-era political parties. In my first book project, I examine the causes and consequences of these so-called authoritarian successor parties (ASPs) across Latin America. Specifically, I investigate two questions: Why do ASPs crop up and become political mainstays in many new democracies? What are their implications for key material and governance outcomes in democracy? Puzzlingly, some of the most enduring ASPs in Latin America embarked on democracy as weak and nascent vehicles that no one expected to survive, much less thrive. I develop a novel theory to explain this puzzle, along with detailed qualitative and quantitative evidence.

The first part of the book lays out my theory of ASPs. I argue that punishment of authoritarian leaders for past abuses can promote ASPs’ survival by sparking a defensive backlash among former authoritarian elites. When these elites perceive punishment as an attack on their vital interests, they respond by channeling critical material and symbolic resources to ASPs that have shown their commitment to authoritarian regimes’ political and economic projects. Here, punishment is counterproductive because it enhances, rather than roots out, former authoritarian elites’ influence under democracy by prompting their coordination. Over the long run, this can have a nefarious effect on further transitional justice, economic redistribution, and the quality of democratic representation.

I assess this argument with multiple sources of data. First, drawing on fieldwork during which I leveraged my fluent Spanish and unparalleled access to conduct extended interviews with former authoritarian leaders and their inner circles, I trace my theory in detailed case studies of Peru’s Fujimorista party and Chile’s Independent Democratic Union (UDI). I show how elites from the Fujimori and Pinochet dictatorships flocked en masse to these ASPs following the indictment and assassination (respectively) of the individuals most closely linked to authoritarian regimes’ political-economic projects. In addition to carefully tracing former authoritarian elites’ coalescence in each case, I draw on my conversations with many of these elites to document the ire, fear, and feelings of defiance that motivated them.

Second, I conduct a statistical test of my theory using data on all Latin American ASPs from 1900 to 2015. I code measures that capture ASPs’ influence by democracy-year, including their vote and seat shares and whether they controlled the executive. I use OLS with country and year fixed effects to show that ASPs are strongly and negatively linked to economic redistribution and a host of high- and low-level indicators of democratic quality.

The book casts doubt on the power of transitional justice to erode authoritarian legacies in democracies. It also serves an important corrective to a recent and rapidly growing body of scholarship on ASPs by showing how weak, nascent, and often hastily constructed ASPs have often endured to become political mainstays in new Latin American democracies.

Recent Papers

Published Articles & Op-Eds

Albertus, Michael, and Mark Deming. 2021. “Branching Out: Consequences of the Dispersion of Authoritarian Elites Across State and Government.” Democratization. Available here.

Op-ed article, ā€œPinochet Still Looms Large in Chilean Politics.ā€ With Michael Albertus. Foreign Policy (11/05/19). Available here.

Working Papers

Deming, Mark. 2021. “Latin American Authoritarian Successor Parties in Comparative Perspective.”

Albertus, Michael, and Mark Deming. 2020. “Trajectories and Consequences of Authoritarian Elite Persistence under Democracy.”