Research

Dissertation: Protesting for More: Corruption, Democracy and the Making of Demands

Protests around the world are motivated by several different issues: environmental concerns, women’s rights, unemployment, the installment, or furthering, of democracy, land disputes, and corruption are among a longer list of demands. Protest as a political tool has often been used to express specific demands geared at grand political and economic structural changes, today it is being used to express a much wider set of grievances. Surprisingly, extant research is limited in understanding this phenomenon. Although there exists an extensive literature on the frequency and intensity of protests, an in-depth study of the motivations or demands remains incomplete. Yet, understanding the demands made via protest is an important vehicle for understanding the larger issues a society faces. Moreover, democracy is predicated on the idea that governments are more responsive to the demands of people, therefore, an awareness of those demands is imperative for the functioning of democracy. I study protest from a different angle, from that of the demands being made. By switching our attention to the more substantive content of citizens’ demands, I take a more serious consideration of what people actually want, and the conditions that shape those demands.
My dissertation takes on two general research questions, why are some protests widespread across many different issue areas in some countries and more focused on fewer in some others? and what are the conditions conducive to some demands over others? The first question tackles the number of demands, as opposed to the number of protests, whereas the second seeks to investigate the national and individual-level factors that engender specific demands. I argue that the relationship between more democratic systems and institutional performance help explain the number of demands as well as the specific demands that are brought up in protest. Specifically, when political institutions provide vehicles for participation, and the airing of grievances, while at the same time holding the mechanisms to deliver on its promises, then citizens’ demands will be narrower than in the context of ill-performing institutions. I use quantitative methods to test my hypotheses at the cross-national level.

Deprivation in the Midst of Plenty: Citizen Polarization and Political Protest.
John D. Griffin, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge and V. Ximena Velasco-Guachalla. British Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming)

We elaborate relative deprivation theory to a societal level to argue that political unrest is rooted in the polarization of citizens’ grievance judgments, rather than the mean level of societal grievance.  Then, using data from 12 cross-national survey projects, we examine the relationship between citizen polarization and political protest in 84 democracies and semi-democracies over the period 1977 to 2010.  We find that countries with more polarized citizens are more likely to experience nonviolent protest.  What is more, protests are most likely in countries where average citizen grievances are low but citizens are also polarized, consistent with the elaborated theoretical expectations of relative deprivation theory.

How Can We Explain Regime Type Differences If Citizens Don’t Vote Based on Foreign Economic Policy?
David H. Bearce and V. Ximena Velasco-Guachalla (2019) Foreign Policy Analysis, 0, 1-12. Published article (ungated)

Abstract: International political economy (IPE) research shows that more democratic governments have more open trade policies with more flexible exchange rate regimes, yet political behavior theory argues that citizens do not think of foreign economic policy as salient and do not cast their votes considering such issues.  This paper investigates the puzzle about how democracies could have different foreign economic policies than autocracies if citizens do not vote based on these international issues.  Using a political model with two possible ways for societal actors to influence state policy (electoral and/or special interest pressure), it first considers how voting based on salient domestic outcomes like inflation and unemployment may lead democratic governments towards more open trade and flexible exchange rates.  Second, if more societal groups are able to lobby as a special interest in more democratic regimes, then governments may also be pushed towards these same foreign economic policies.  Thus, there is no fundamental contradiction between the IPE empirical results and the political behavior theory, although scholars need to adjust their theories to explain foreign economic policy differences across political regime type.

Indigenous Attitudes toward the Political System in Bolivia.
Carew Boulding, Raymond Foxworth, Jamie Nelson-Nunez, and V. Ximena Velasco-Guachalla (2019) Revista Latino Americana de Opinion Publica, Issue 8, 2019. Published article (ungated)

Abstract: We investigate how indigenous people view the political system before and after this historic change in representation. In particular, we focus on indigenous peoples’ support for the political system, comparing attitudes of indigenous and non-indigenous people before and after the election of Evo Morales and the MAS. We argue that ethnic shortcuts can be very important in shaping political attitudes, especially in contexts of historic shifts in representation for previously excluded groups in ethnically divided societies. Ethnicity, however, is not a completely different kind of heuristic from other political cues and short-cuts. Rather, co-ethnic electoral success provides information to voters about the fairness of the system in much the same way that other in-group political victories do. We expect that co-ethnics will show more support for the political system following a historic electoral victory of an ethnic party, much as other supporters of a winning party would. We do not expect that co-ethnic support is more permanent or more resilient to evidence of wrong-doing, unfairness, or corruption in the long term. Instead, while we expect indigenous people to be more favorable towards the system at first, over time indigenous people – like everyone else – update their evaluations based on many factors. Once the initial excitement of victory wears off, we expect co-ethnics who have direct negative interactions with government to view the system less favorably, contrary to the expectations of the literature that views ethnic voting as inherently less critical than other types of support, especially the more time passes from an electoral shift.

Is the Informal Sector Politically Different? (Null) Answers from Latin America.
Andy Baker and V. Ximena Velasco-Guachalla (2018). World Development, 102, 170-182. Published article (gated)

Scholars have produced a limited understanding of the effect of informal labor status on a worker’s political attitudes and behavior. We present descriptive evidence on the micro-political correlates of informality using direct measures of the concept in public opinion surveys from 18 Latin American countries. We test three scholarly impressions of informal workers—that they are less politically engaged, more right-leaning, and more favorable toward noncontributory social programs than formal-sector workers. These are grounded in a dualist conception of labor markets that views the formal and informal sectors as having little overlap. We find minimal evidence for these impressions and argue that recent empirical findings consistent with a revisionist view of informality better account for our null results. According to this view, informal and formal labor markets are highly integrated, which, we argue, melds together the economic interests and political preferences of individuals in both sectors. We also provide evidence that casts doubt on alternative explanations that would attribute our null results to the timing of our surveys, to operational sources of political behavior, or to measurement error.

Maintaining Civic Space in Backsliding Regimes.
Andy Baker, Carew Boulding, Shawnna Mullenax, Galen Murton, Meagan Todd, Ximena Velasco-Guachalla, and Drew Zackary (2017). Research and Innovation Grants Working Papers Series. Washington, D.C.: USAID and IIE. Access Here

Abstract: This project summarizes the interdisciplinary literature on civil society in regimes that are backsliding away from democracy. Project Website

Works in Progress:

Presidential Turnover and the Legitimacy Gap in Latin America.
C
arew Boulding and Ximena Velasco-Guachalla (Available upon request)

Abstract: Institutional legitimacy in democracies depends on both winners and losers of elections believing that the process is generally fair. While this is particularly true for losers of the electoral game who might have incentives to contest the results if they condemn the legitimacy of their governing institutions, it is also relevant for the winners who might blindly support faulty policies. We study the causes that widen or narrow the legitimacy gap between citizens affiliated with opposing parties in their evaluations of institutional legitimacy in Latin America. We argue that presidential turnover is a key factor that narrows the legitimacy gap while allegations of electoral fraud widens the gap. We use the Latin American Public Opinion Project microlevel data combined with national-level data on Latin American elections between 2004-2012.

Electoral Protests & Support for the Political System.
C
arew Boulding and Ximena Velasco-Guachalla (Available upon request)

Scholars see protest as essential for democracy to work because it is an expression of vital political freedoms, and when governments do not retaliate, it is a sign that those freedoms are adequately protected for citizens to be able to partake in this form of political participation. Elections offer a chance for citizens to engage in institutional channels of participation -via the ballot box, but electoral processes also offer an opportunity for disaffected citizens to protest. This paper explores pre-and post- electoral protests and their effect on support for the political system. We argue that election losers see their ability to protest as a sign that, despite an election loss, the system still provides open spaces for expression and dissent. This relationship, however, is contingent on the government’s use of repression. Additionally, if protests lead to tangible outcomes –a recount of the votes, voters on the losing side might gain confidence in their assessment of the process.  We test these hypotheses at the level of the election and the level of individual experiences to understand how electoral protests impact citizens’ evaluation and support for the political system. We use the Latin American Public Opinion Project microlevel data combined with national-level data on Latin American elections.