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Party Systems and Electoral Volatility in Latin America: A Test of Economic, Institutional, and Structural Explanations

  • Kenneth M. Roberts (a1) and Erik Wibbels (a1)

Abstract

Three different theoretical explanations are tested for the exceptionally high level of electoral volatility found in contemporary Latin America: economic voting, institutional characteristics of political regimes and party systems, and the structure and organization of class cleavages. A pooled cross-sectional time-series regression analysis is conducted on 58 congressional elections and 43 presidential elections in 16 Latin American countries during the 1980s and 1990s. Institutional variables have the most consistent effect on volatility, while the influence of economic performance is heavily contingent upon the type of election and whether the dependent variable is operationalized as incumbent vote change or aggregate electoral volatility. The results demonstrate that electoral volatility is a function of short-term economic perturbations, the institutional fragilities of both democratic regimes and party systems, and relatively fluid cleavage structures.

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