"How Oppositions Fight Back" in Journal of Democracy 34, No. 3, 2023 DOI: 10.1353/jod.2023.a900435

(Pre-Print Version)

Around the globe, democratically elected leaders are eroding democracy by legal means, a strategy that often averts domestic and international backlash. To counter this erosion, oppositions may deploy radical, extra-institutional opposition strategies which risk backfiring and strengthening autocracy. Safer options are moderate, institutional strategies that maintain opposition legitimacy and work within democratic frameworks, an approach exemplified by the Colombian opposition during President Álvaro Uribe’s tenure. However, the success of moderate strategies hinges on strong domestic and international support for democracy. Global apathy towards democracy can combine with an autocrat’s use of a democratic façade to produce rapid democratic backsliding, as in the case of El Salvador’s transition to competitive authoritarianism under President Nayib Bukele.

"When Handpicked Successors of Charismatic Leaders Prosper: The Surprising Success of Juan Manuel Santos in Colombia" with Caitlin Andrews-Lee in Democratization 29(6): 1116-1136, 2022.

(Pre-Print Version)

Charismatic leaders, who loathe sharing power, often anoint sycophantic successors who fail to become powerful leaders in their own right. Curiously, however, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (2010–2018), the handpicked successor of Alvaro Uribe (2002–2010), became a remarkably effective leader who served two terms and oversaw Colombia’s landmark 2016 peace agreement. We investigate this unlikely outcome and develop a novel theory to reveal a pathway through which some handpicked successors of charismatic leaders can establish independent authority. We argue that success is more likely when the successor breaks away from the predecessor. However, doing so requires the successor to engage in a sequential and highly strategic process we label tightrope walking, in which the new leader gains the predecessor’s endorsement to win office, expands his/her coalition by incorporating new allies from outside the predecessor’s base, and reforms the predecessor’s unsustainable policies and narrative. To substantiate our theory, we trace how Santos moved through each stage of the tightrope-walking process and ultimately broke from Uribe to achieve independent authority. The results suggest a rare but important mechanism through which charismatic movements can be challenged from the inside out, curtailing or reversing democratic erosion.

"Corte al Congreso: Poder judicial y trámite legislativo en Colombia" with Sandra Botero in Latin American Research Review. 56 (3).DOI: 10.25222

(Pre-Print Version)

Las cortes influyen de forma directa e indirecta en el proceso legislativo. Hasta el momento, los estudios sobre Congreso en Colombia se han enfocado mayoritariamente en la influencia directa de la Corte Constitucional. Este artículo explora su influencia indirecta. Usando la Reforma Penal Militar de 2012 como estudio de caso, mostramos cómo la Corte cambia los cálculos y comportamiento de los congresistas. Debido a su independencia y accesibilidad, la Corte Constitucional amplía el abanico de estrategias disponibles a las coaliciones minoritarias de oposición en el Congreso. Además de tácticas tradicionales de obstrucción cuyo objetivo es dilatar el proceso legislativo, la oposición en Colombia tiene acceso a estrategias de obstrucción vía la Corte, cuyo objetivo es influir en el control de constitucionalidad. En el Congreso los congresistas diseñan y documentan irregularidades que le permitan a la Corte fallar en contra de una ley. En la Corte, los congresistas (o sus aliados) demandan las leyes utilizando las irregularidades debidamente documentadas en las Gacetas del Congreso para argumentar su demanda. Juntas, estas estrategias les permiten a oposiciones minoritarias bloquear leyes adversas y avanzar su agenda en el proceso de construcción de políticas públicas.

"Who Undermines the Peace at the Ballot Box? The Case of Colombia" with Anna O. Pechenkina in Terrorism and Political Violence. Published Online October 24, 2019. DOI: 10.1080/09546553.2019.1676239

(Pre-Print Version)

Electoral politics and violent civil conflict often coexist. Citizens exposed and unexposed to violence bear the costs of conflict unevenly and, thus, conceive of militant vs. accommodationist state response to the perpetrators of violence differently. The literature has found that victims of political violence tend to endorse militant state response against nonstate actors seen as responsible. This result is mostly based on secessionist conflicts in which victims of violence are often shielded from the costs of state counterinsurgency or counterterrorism campaigns. By contrast, we argue, in non-secessionist conflicts, individuals exposed to violence tend to also experience the state militant anti-guerrilla operations, which often lead to state abuses of civilians. We expect that civilians exposed to nonstate and state attacks will be more likely to support pro-peace policies. We find support for this argument analyzing Colombia's 2014 presidential election and 2016 peace agreement referendum. In addition, we use original data on local candidates' pro- and anti-peace process positions in Colombia's 2014 congressional election to test the underlying logic of the argument that local communities exposed to both nonstate and state violence are more likely to demand pro-peace policies

"Are all types of wrongdoing created equal in the eyes of voters?" with Sandra Botero, Rodrigo Castro Cornejo, Nara Pavāo, and David Nickerson. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties. Published Online 2019. DOI: 10.1080/17457289.2019.1651322

(Pre-Print Version)

Do voters evaluate some forms of political wrongdoing more harshly than others? Do they punish private enrichment and clientelism equally? We argue that voters' responses to political wrongdoing are a function of the expected benefits voters associate with specific types of malpractice. We conducted a survey experiment varying two common types of political wrongdoing and measuring citizens' evaluations of political candidates in Argentina. The results show that respondents punish politicians engaged in private enrichment more severely than politicians engaged in clientelism. We test two arguments that could provide a mechanism for this phenomenon. While the strength of one's partisan affiliation does not moderate the treatment effect, we find that respondents with low socio-economic status punish illicit enrichment more harshly than clientelism and that respondents with high socio-economic status punish both types of wrongdoing equally.

"El reajuste de la derecha colombiana. El éxito electoral del uribismo" in Colombia Internacional 99 (2019): 187-214. DOI: 10.7440/colombiaint99.2019.07

This article seeks to explain the electoral success of Iván Duque in the 2018 presidential elections. The victory of Uribe's candidate is paradoxical for two reasons. First, Duque campaigned against the peace process, a major achievement in recent Colombian history and an important step to reduce violence and strengthen the country's democracy. Second, Duque was the most inexperienced candidate on the right. He managed to defeat more visible politicians, with more experience and better access to electoral machinery. Using information from primary and secondary sources, public opinion surveys, analysis of electoral data and surveys of parliamentarians, this paper argues that Iván Duque's victory is the result of two simultaneous processes: the consolidation of Uribismo —the hawkish faction of the Colombian right— and the emergence of socio-economic cleavage, historically subordinated to matters of public security. The first process was the result of the negotiations with the FARC and the de-institutionalization of the party system. Together, these factors strengthened the political machinery of the party Centro Democrático and diminished traditional elites' ability to mobilize votes. The second process was the result of the interaction between the agreements with the FARC and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The peace process opened spaces on the left of the ideological spectrum. Gustavo Petro took advantage of this space and enthused voters with his left-leaning socio-economic proposals. His program took him all the way to the run-off election. Once there, however, the crisis in Venezuela played against him. Afraid that Petro would turn Colombia into a "second Venezuela," center and center-right voters voted for Duque.

"Under Friendly Fire: Partisan Press, Political Fragmentation and Candidate Evaluations in Argentina" with Sandra Botero, Rodrigo Castro Cornejo, Nara Pavao and David Nickerson in Electoral Studies 60 (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.electstud.2019.04.008

(Pre-Print Version)

Statements in which a one-sided partisan media source criticizes a politician aligned with it—friendly fire—are particularly persuasive. This literature assumes a bipartisan context, where partisan news outlets send cues that neatly map on to two opposing partisan options. What happens in fragmented party systems? We argue that when there is a dominant party on one side of the political spectrum with a strong link with a media outlet, voters treat attacks against a co-partisan candidate as friendly fire. But when there is a fragmented opposition, we expect that the strength of the signal conveyed by the friendly fire is diminished. We fielded a survey experiment in Argentina where, until 2015, there was one governing party openly associated with a media outlet and a fragmented opposition with an aligned media outlet with no direct link to a specific party. Accusations made by a congenial newspaper increase the punishment of the co-partisan candidate. The fragmented nature of the opposition changes the dynamic of friendly fire. Only partisan and sophisticated opposition voters treat attacks on opposition candidates as friendly fire. These voters are better able to overcome the lack of clear partisan link with the opposition newspaper and punish their co-partisan candidate.

"Latin America's Shifting Politics: The Peace Process and Colombia's Elections." in Journal of Democracy 29, No. 4, 2018 DOI: 10.1353/jod.2018.0062

(Pre-Print Version)

The 2016 peace accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) ended a fifty-year armed conflict, significantly reduced violence, and enhanced Colombia's democracy. Yet a candidate whose main promise was to dismantle the agreements—conservative one-term senator Iván Duque—won the 2018 presidential elections. How did this happen? Party-system deinstitutionalization and polarization around the peace process hindered centrist candidates on both the left and the right. It pushed extreme right- and left-wing populists—Duque and Gustavo Petro, respectively—into the runoff. In this second round, the Venezuelan crisis tipped the scale against the leftist candidate. Supporters successfully presented Duque as the lesser of two evils. Scared that Colombia would suffer Venezuela's fate, a majority of citizens voted against Petro.

"Opposition at the Margins: Strategies against the Erosion of Democracy in Colombia and Venezuela" in Comparative Politics 49, No. 4 (July 1, 2017) DOI: 10.5129/001041517821273044

(Pre-Print Version)

This article argues that the goals and strategies the opposition uses against presidents with hegemonic aspirations are critical to understand why some leaders successfully erode democracy, while others fail. Using interviews and archival research, I trace the dynamics of erosion in Alvaro Uribe's(Colombia) and Hugo Chávez's (Venezuela) administrations. I show that during the first years of these governments, the opposition in both countries had some institutional leverage. The Colombian opposition used that leverage. It resorted to institutional and moderate extra-institutional strategies, which protected its institutional resources and allowed it to eventually stop Uribe's second reelection reform. The Venezuelan opposition forsook that leverage and chose radical extra-institutional strategies instead. The latter cost it the institutional resources it had, and helped Chávez advance more radical reforms.

"Venezuela: Aprofundamento do autoritarismo ou transição para a democracia?" in Relações Internacionais. Edição Especial: A crise da democracia. No. 52 (Dezembro 2016) (<a class="text-blue-500 underline" href=""target="_blank">PDF)

Up until the 1990s Venezuela was one of the most stable democracies in Latin America. Today it is the quintessential example of a competitive authoritarian regime. How did this country become increasingly more authoritarian? Is it likely it will transition to democracy any time soon? This article explores these questions, focusing on the role of the opposition. I suggest that the opposition's strategic choices and goals are key to understand Venezuela's erosion to democracy, as well as the advances and setbacks in these country's attempts to transition to democracy. Between 2006 and 2013 the opposition used institutional strategies to defeat Chavismo. In 2014 it resorted to extra-institutional strategies with radical goals. Despite the severe economic and security crisis, individually, neither of these strategic choices was sufficient to push for a regime change. A mix of elections and street protests, since 2015 seems to be yielding better results.

"Says Who? An Experiment on Allegations of Corruption and Credibility of Sources" with Sandra Botero, Rodrigo Castro-Cornejo, Nara Pavao and David Nickerson in Political Research Quarterly 68, No. 3 (September 1, 2015) DOI: 10.1177/1065912915591607

(Pre-Print Version)

To hold politicians accountable for corrupt practices, voters must rely on reports from third parties and view these accusation sources as credible. We conducted a survey experiment varying sources for corruption accusations and measuring citizens'evaluations of political candidates in Colombia. Consistent with prior surveys, we find that respondents trust newspapers more than the judiciary or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Corruption accusations coming from the leading national newspaper drive down levels of support and trust for corrupt politicians relative to identical accusations made against identical candidates by NGOs and the judiciary. Our results also indicate that people with lower levels of education were more responsive than more educated individuals to corruption accusations coming from newspapers when compared to those coming from the judiciary or an NGO. Perceptions of candidate competence did not move with perceived trustworthiness.