Picture Budgetary Negotiations How the Chilean Congress Overcomes its Constitutional Limits

2015. “Budgetary Negotiations: How the Chilean Congress Overcomes its Constitutional Limits.” Journal of Legislative Studies 21 (2): 213-231. PDF.

Recent research suggests that the Chilean Congress is marginalised in the policymaking process, especially when setting the budget. This paper argues that previous studies have overlooked the fact that the legislature uses two amendment tools – specifications and marginal notes – to increase the national budget and reallocate resources within ministries. This behaviour contradicts the constitution, which only allows Congress to reduce the executive’s budget bill. To test this empirically, a pooled two-stage time-series cross-sectional analysis is conducted on ministries for the years 1991–2010. The findings clarify how the legislature surpasses its constitutional limits and demonstrate that specifications are useful to predict when Congress increases or decreases a ministry’s budget.

Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: the Chilean Post-Earthquake Reconstruction.

2016. “Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: the Chilean Post-Earthquake Reconstruction.” Latin American Perspectives 44(4): 62-80. PDF.

The criticism of the reconstruction that followed the cataclysm in Chile in 2010 has centered on contingent factors including the performance of politicians. An examination of the way structural factors conditioned the governmental response to the 8.8 earthquake shows that the constitution created by the military regime shaped the reconstruction through provisions that limited vertical and horizontal accountability in intrastate and state-society relations. The subsidiary state, executive-legislative power relations, the binomial electoral system, and the appointment rather than election of regional authorities favored a recovery effort that has been underinstitutionalized, privatized, characterized by scant participation of victims, and marred by irregularities. An analysis of governmental reports, media outlets, polls, and semistructured interviews conducted with legislators, social leaders, and scholars sheds light on the relation between the constitution and the recovery.

How to Assess the Members of the Political Elite? A Proposal Based on Presidents of the Americas

2016. “How to Assess the Members of the Political Elite? A Proposal Based on Presidents of the Americas.” [In Spanish] Política 54 (1): 219-254. PDF.

This article critically reviews the study of the political elite, including the historical evolution of its meaning, role, composition, independence and ways of analysing its members. It argues that to effectively study elite  members  their  individual  differences  should  be  examined.  This  paper looks at individual differences among presidents, those at highest levels of the political elite in presidential systems. It finds that as a group, presidents of the Western Hemisphere come from moderately affluent socioeconomic  backgrounds,  at  least  one  third  are  either  lawyers  or  come  from  the  security  forces,  and  that  they  tend  to  score  low  on  agreeableness  and  neuroticism,  moderately  high  in  extroversion  and  openness  to  experience,  and  high  in  conscientiousness.  This  exercise  suggests a research agenda that may be extended to other members of the elite.

What Drives Evo’s Attempts to Remain in Power? A Psychological Explanation

2017. “What Drives Evo’s Attempts to Remain in Power? A Psychological Explanation.” Bolivian Studies Journal 22: 191-219. PDF.

The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, has managed to govern longer than all of his predecessors thanks to his three successful attempts to relax his term limits. In this article I argue that the high risk-taking personality of Morales, especially his social risk-taking, helps to explain why he has consistently tried to extend his time in office. To address this proposition I follow a twofold strategy. First, I show the results of a survey conducted among experts in presidents of the Americas. This survey measured different personality traits of the leaders that governed between 1945 and 2012, including their risk-taking. Second, I examine some of the most important decisions that Morales has made throughout his adult life. Both the survey and the analysis of Morales’ trajectory suggest that his attempts to cling to power are rooted in his risk-taking.

Chile 2016: The nadir of democratic legitimacy?

2017. “Chile 2016: The nadir of democratic legitimacy?” [In Spanish]  Revista de Ciencia Política 37 (2): 305-334. PDF.

This article argues that the legitimacy of the political system is currently at its lowest point since the return to democracy. Presidential approval ratings dipped to a record low in 2016. The year also saw the highest levels of electoral absenteeism and distrust in the three branches of government, and the lowest levels of identification with political parties. This low legitimacy of the political system can be attributed to cyclical —governmental mismanagement and corruption scandals— and underlying causes —interpersonal mistrust, detachment from the political activity and insulated elites—. If these trends continue, we may witness a transformation of the party system, the emergence of populist movements and leaders, and the erosion of the quality of Chilean democracy.

Strategic Retirement in Comparative Perspective.

2017. “Strategic Retirement in Comparative Perspective.” (with Aníbal Pérez-Liñán) Journal of Law and Courts 5 (2): 173-197. PDF.

Students of judicial behavior debate whether justices time their retirement to allow for the nomination of like-minded judges. We formalize the assumptions of strategic retirement theory and derive precise hypotheses about the conditions that moderate the effect of partisan incentives on judicial retirements. The empirical implications are tested with evidence for Supreme Court members under democracies and dictatorships in six presidential regimes between 1900 and 2004. The theory of strategic retirement finds limited support in the United States and elsewhere. We conclude that researchers should emphasize “sincere” motivations for retirement, progressive political ambitions, and—crucial in weakly institutionalized legal systems—political pressures.

Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America

Judicial Reshuffles and Women Justices in Latin America.” American Journal of Political Science (with Aníbal Pérez-Liñán and Melanie Hughes). PDF


Can weak judicial institutions facilitate the advancement of women to the high courts? We explore the relationship between weak institutions and gender diversification by analyzing the consequences of judicial reshuffles in Latin America. Our theory predicts that institutional disruptions will facilitate the appointment of women justices, but only when left parties control the nomination process. We test this argument using difference‐in‐differences and dynamic panel models for 18 Latin American countries between 1961 and 2014. The analysis offers support for our hypothesis, but gains in gender diversification are modest in size and hard to sustain over time. Political reshuffles may produce short‐term advances for women in the judiciary, but they do not represent a path to substantive progress in gender equality.

The Personalities of Presidents as Independent Variables.

[11]  2020. “The Personalities of Presidents as Independent Variables.” Political Psychology. PDF.


The debate about the relative importance of the personality traits of presidents has a long history. Until the mid‐1970s, scholars of the presidency extensively focused on the uniqueness of the individuals that held office. However, the difficulty in capturing presidential personalities and measuring their impact on executive politics led to a significant quantitative shift that focused more on the institutions within which presidents operate. This change produced a long‐lasting divide between researchers interested in the “institutional” presidency and those focused on the “personal” presidency. I propose to integrate both approaches by incorporating insights from differential psychology to treat the personality traits of presidents as independent variables. In support of the argument, I use data from an expert survey that captured psychometric traits of presidents who governed the Western Hemisphere in 1945–2012 to reassess an influential study about Latin American presidents. The results show that adding openness to experience leads to a deeper understanding of presidential approval. I conclude by arguing that measuring the personality traits of all sorts of leaders is necessary to modernize the study of elites.

Informal Institutions and Horizontal Accountability: Protocols in the Chilean Budgetary Process.

2013. “Informal Institutions and Horizontal Accountability: Protocols in the Chilean Budgetary Process.”  Latin American Politics and Society 55 (4): 74-94. PDF.

Studies of executive‐legislative relations are usually based only on the analysis of formal institutions, although informal institutions also shape interbranch behavior. This omission leads to questionable results when scholars examine the capacity of state institutions to audit other public agencies and branches of government. This article explores how the protocols, an informal institution that shapes the Chilean budgetary negotiations, have increasingly allowed the congress to have a more relevant budgetary role than what the constitution permits. It argues that protocols accommodate some of the undesired consequences of a charter that is strongly biased toward the central government, and describes how this institution has departed from its stringent budgetary focus to encompass broader executive‐legislative agreements that enhance the legislature’s capacity to oversee the executive.

“Who whispers to the president? Advisors versus ministers in Latin America.” [In Spanish] Política 50(2): 29-57

2012. “Who whispers to the president? Advisors versus ministers in Latin America.” [In Spanish] Política 50(2): 29-57. PDF.

This article examines who influences presidential decisions within the Executive and how this occurs. Based on interviews with twenty-one former presidents, this paper argues that the tension between advisors and ministers varies according to the type of presidential leadership and whether the president freely appoints ministers or they are imposed by political parties. The interaction between both variables conditions relations between advisors and ministers, allowing advisors to complement, substitute, accommodate or compete with ministers’ duties. To systematize this argument, this paper proposes a categorization of the degree of conflict that exists between ministers and advisors.