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Title page for ETD etd-11272013-134055


Type of Document Dissertation
Author Rodriguez Vargas, Mariana
Author's Email Address mariana.rodriguez@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-11272013-134055
Title The Sustainability of Populism in Times of Crisis: Explaining the Chávez Phenomenon
Degree PhD
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Ph.D. Committee Co-Chair
Mitchell A. Seligson, Ph.D. Committee Co-Chair
Jonathan T. Hiskey, Ph.D. Committee Member
Kirk A. Hawkins, Ph.D. Committee Member
Keywords
  • populism
  • economic voting
  • Hugo Chávez
  • Latin America
  • Venezuela
  • public opinion
Date of Defense 2013-10-18
Availability unrestricted
Abstract
A worsening state of affairs in Venezuela during Hugo Chávez’s administration, including unstable economic growth, oil revenue mismanagement, inflation, and deteriorating democratic rights and institutions, would have conceivably given voters enough reasons to punish the president at the polls. Yet, Chávez was popularly reelected three times after 1998 and defeated a recall referendum in 2004. To explain what I call the “Chávez Phenomenon,” I argue that Chávez was reelected more times than is consistent with classic retrospective voting theories despite his poor national performance as the product of individual socioeconomic and political policy benefits, as well as a compelling ideological message that helped create a political decision-making structure that incentivized his electoral base to keep pledging their allegiance to him at the polls. Chávez provided targeted socioeconomic benefits through a series of policies that improved the living conditions of the poor and also established important clientelistic linkages with the largest socioeconomic sector of Venezuelan society. In addition, Chávez transformed the political arena through both a redefinition of the normative purpose of democracy, and also the inclusion of previously marginalized (but large) sectors of society into the power play of politics. This dissertation shows that beneficiaries of Chávez’s leftist-populist agenda seem to have chosen to reelect him because they had greater self-interest-based incentives for protecting their newly gained socioeconomic and political benefits than sympathizers of other presidential candidates. The findings also indicate that the ideological appeal of Chávez’s leftist-populist political agenda seems to have similarly acted as an individual-level attitudinal constraint that biased his followers’ economic and government performance evaluations, and hence significantly reduced their willingness to vote against him. Moreover, this dissertation demonstrates that the Venezuelan poor not only voted to reelect Chávez at greater levels than their wealthier counterparts, but they were also the most likely to benefit from Chávez’s inclusionary policies and adhere to his ideology. Thus, in these ways, the poor were the drivers of connections between Chávez’s leftist-populist agenda, public opinion, and his continued reelection success.
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