“Feminist Mobilization and the Abortion Debate in Latin America: Lessons from Argentina” with Mariela Szwarcberg (Reed College). (Forthcoming at Politics & Gender).

When Argentine President Mauricio Macri announced in March 2018 that he supported a “responsible and mature” national debate regarding the decriminalization of abortion, it took many by surprise. In a Catholic country with a center-right government, in which public opinion regarding abortion had hardly moved in decades—why would the abortion debate surface in Argentina when it did? Our answer is grounded in the social movements literature, as we argue that the organizational framework necessary for growing the decriminalization movement was already built by an emergent feminist movement of unprecedented scope and influence: Ni Una Menos. Through expanding the movement’s social justice frame from gender violence to encompass abortion rights, feminist social movements were able to change public opinion and expand the scope of debate, making salient an issue that had long been politically untouchable. We marshal evidence from multiple surveys carried out before, during, and after the abortion debate and in-depth interviews to shed light on the sources of abortion rights movements in unlikely contexts.

The contentious politics literature has long been divided on the extent to which grievances –or “dissatisfaction caused by deprivation” (Dalton et al., 2009)– drive citizen participation in protests. Do grievances motivate citizens to take to the streets? To shed light on how grievances affect protest, we focus on citizen evaluations of public service provision in Latin America. Scant research has examined the effect of poor public service delivery on contentious participation in emerging democracies. We highlight two mechanisms associated with public service evaluations that facilitate mobilization: 1) firsthand experience with poor governance and 2) clear attribution of responsibility for poor service provision. To test our argument, we utilize data from the 2012 and 2014 AmericasBarometer national surveys of Brazil, and then generalize to Latin America in multilevel models of protest drawing from 18 countries. The results are consistent: where firsthand experience with state incompetence fuels declining system support and specific attribution of blame for underperformance, as in the case of public service evaluations in Latin America, grievances fuel participation in protest.


“Severed Linkages: Distorted Accountability in Uneven Regimes.” 2017. (with Jonathan Hiskey). Comparative Political Studies 51(10): 1314-1350.  

Though a general consensus exists regarding the significance of perceived performance in voters’ evaluations of incumbent governments, much of the research underlying this consensus has been carried out across political systems with little internal variance in the degree of democracy. We propose that in emerging regimes, where such uniformity in terms of the territorial diffusion of democracy is not a given, characteristics of subnational political regimes can prevent electoral linkages from forming. Specifically, we argue that in subnational contexts where some minimal level of political competition has taken hold, performance-based linkages such as those driving economic voting should surface. However, in subnational dominant-party systems, where clientelistic linkages between voters and political bosses tend to prevail, economic performance and other aspects of an incumbent’s governance record will be less consequential for the voting calculus of citizens, in both provincial and national elections. We find support for this theoretical framework in Argentina and Mexico, two democratic countries characterized by highly uneven subnational political contexts. By highlighting how subnational regime characteristics facilitate or undermine electoral accountability mechanisms, we cast light on the very real representational consequences of uneven democratization in emerging regimes.

Contentious Engagement: Understanding Protest in Latin American Democracies.” 2015. Journal of Politics in Latin America 7(3): 3-48.

Abstract: Why has protest participation seemingly exploded across much of Latin America in recent years? How do individual- and country level characteristics interact to explain the rise of contentious politics in countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela? I contend that the recent wave of protests in Latin America is the result of trends in community engagement and institutional development across the region’s young
democracies. Specifically, I argue that low-quality institutions in democratic regimes push an increasingly large number of civically active Latin Americans toward more radical modes of political participation, as governments’ abilities to deliver on citizens’ expectations fail to match the capacity for mobilization of active democrats. Drawing on cross-national surveys of Latin America, I test this argument, finding that an interactive
relationship between community engagement and ineffective political institutions helps explain the recent spike in protest activity in certain cases and the vast differences in protest participation observed throughout the region.

“Good Democrats, Bad Targets: Democratic Values and Clientelistic Vote Buying.” 2015. (with Ryan Carlin). Journal of Politics 77(1): 14-26.

Abstract: Who do parties target for clientelistic vote buying? Existing research looks almost exclusively at individuals’ socioeconomic and, especially, electoral profiles—which parties and candidates they support, professed ideological leanings, past voting turnout, and choice. We argue party brokers also consider democratic attitudinal profiles. Specifically, they are more likely to avoid full-fledged democrats and target citizens who are ambivalent to or reject core democratic principles. We test this proposition with the 2010 Argentina AmericasBarometer. To address selection bias on observables and unobservables, respectively, we preprocess the data with entropy balancing and employ instrumental variables regression. Results from both strategies are consistent with the notion that democrats are less likely votebuying targets than their less democratic counterparts. Effect sizes are on par with or exceed other theoretical variables, and the results are robust to a variety of checks and specifications.

“Subnational Electoral Regimes and Crisis Recovery in Argentina and Mexico.” 2011. (with Jonathan Hiskey and Jed Goldberg). Electoral Studies 30: 468-480.

Abstract: The confluence of Latin America’s volatile economic development patterns and transition to democracy has given rise to a proliferation of work on the national-level political causes and consequences of economic shocks and recovery rates. We explore the subnational electoral determinants of crisis recovery through analysis of growth rates in Mexico’s thirty-one states and Argentina’s twenty-three provinces following their economic declines of 2000–2002. Consistent with a theory that views intra-national variations in democracy as critical to understanding broader development patterns, we find that subnational electoral “regimes” significantly affect provincial recovery rates. Provinces that have an established electoral legitimacy prior to the onset of an economic shock, and those in which the governor enjoyed a substantial margin of victory, had significantly stronger recovery rates than those provinces stuck in a subnational regime transition with a sitting executive who lacked any claim to an electoral mandate.