Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

[13]  2021. “The “Big Five” Personality Traits of Presidents and the Relaxation of Term Limits in Latin America.” Democratization. PDF.

Thirty-one presidents from every Latin American country —excluding Mexico— who were governing from 1945-2012 tried forty times to change the constitution of their countries to overstay in office. These attempts often caused severe political instability. Current explanations of the variability of term limits have centered on the context in which presidents govern despite the protagonism of the leaders in the constitutional changes. I argue that the personality traits of presidents are an important driver of their overreaching behavior. Centered on the paradigm of the “Big Five,” I propose hypotheses about a causal relationship between each of the five core personality factors —openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism— and the presidents’ attempts to alter their term limits. To test the theory, I use data about presidents who governed from 1945-2012. The results of a discrete-time duration analysis show that three of the Big Five are associated to the likelihood of observing a president changing term limits. I conclude by discussing how this research agenda should be extended to uncover how the uniqueness of the leaders explains relevant outcomes in executive politics.

[12]  2021. “The Quest for Uncontested Power: Presidents’ Personalities and Democratic Erosion in Latin America, 1945-2012.” Political Psychology. PDF.

There is a growing scholarly consensus that overreaching heads of government are subverting democracies across the globe. However, the characteristics of these leaders remain unclear. This article examines a type of overreaching presidential behavior that has been commonplace in Latin America: between 1945 and 2012, 25 presidents from 14 countries tried to change their respective constitutions to increase their powers. Building on personality research and semi-structured interviews conducted with former presidents, this article proposes that risk-taking and assertive leaders are more likely to try to increase their powers. Using a novel database, I conduct discrete-time duration models to test the hypotheses on the presidents that governed from 1945-2012. The results demonstrate that the personalities of presidents are a strong force behind their attempts to consolidate their authority. These findings challenge current approaches in presidential studies and have implications for the study of all types of political elites.

[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.

[10] 2020. “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.

[9] 2019.  “First Ladies as Members of the Political Elite.” [In Spanish] (with Carolina Guerrero). América Latina Hoy. PDF.

First ladies are increasingly acquiring political capital, influencing governments, and becoming candidates. However, the specialized literature has not documented this trend. In this article, we argue that the involvement of this group of women in the Executive Power makes it necessary to consider them as part of the political elite. To have a better understanding of the political influence of the first ladies, we propose a typology that generates four categories in which we then classify the 88 women who held the position between 1990 and 2016.

[8] 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.

[7] 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.

[6] 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.

[5] 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.

[4] 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.

[3] 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.

[2] 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.

[1] 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.

Book Chapters

[3] 2020. “Executive-Legislative Relations: When do Legislators Trust the President?” [with Carolina Guerrero] In Manuel Alcántara, Mercedes García, and Cristina Rivas, eds., Politics and Political Elites in Latin America. PDF.

Research on interbranch conflict has mostly focused on the effect that the institutional and political context has on executive-legislative relations. Little attention has been paid to the interpersonal dimension in interbranch relations, despite being characterized by intensive interactions among political elites. Arguably, the trust that legislators have in the incumbent signals their willingness to negotiate and reach agreements with the head of government. In this chapter, we begin to address the factors that explain the trust legislators have in presidents. We use data from two unique databases, the Presidential Database of the Americas and the Parliamentary Elites of Latin America Project, to examine legislative trust in presidents from 18 countries for the 1994–2014 period. We find that factors that capture the institutional and political environment as well as variables that measure psychological and non-psychological characteristics of the leaders are relevant to understanding the trust that legislators have in heads of government.

[2] 2018. “Comparative Political Elites.” In Ali Farazmand and Mauricio Olavarría-Gambi, eds., The Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance. Springer International Publishing. PDF.

Political elite members are individuals who influence or make political decisions that have consequences at the national level. De jure elite members control the top positions in the three powers of the state, while de facto members exercise influence from the shadows, based on their prominent role in society. Political elites vary across countries in their number, recruitment, circulation, integration, and diversity.

[1] 2018. “The electoral emergence of Latin American first ladies.”[In Spanish,  with Carolina Guerrero] In Lucía Miranda Leibe and Julieta Suárez-Cao, eds., La política siempre ha sido cosa de mujeres: elecciones y protagonistas en perspectiva comparada.” FLACSO-Chile. PDF.

Entre 1990 y 2016 veinte ex primeras damas de la región han optado veintiséis veces por competir en elecciones legislativas o presidenciales al finalizar sus mandatos. En conjunto, les ha ido bastante bien: resultaron electas en diecinueve oportunidades, accediendo a la presidencia (dos veces), vicepresidencia (tres), congresos unicamerales (ocho) y bicamerales (cinco senadoras y una diputada). Pero a pesar de la creciente gravitación que tienen las ex primeras damas en la política latinoamericana, hasta ahora ningún trabajo académico ha analizado el fenómeno de manera comparada.