Failed Presidencies: Identifying and Explaining a South American Anomaly

Kathryn Hochstetler, Margaret E. Edwards


Are presidential democracies inherently unstable and prone to breakdown? Recent work on Latin America suggests that the region has seen the emergence of a new kind of instability, where individual presidents do not manage to stay in office to the end of their terms, but the regime itself continues. This article places the Latin American experiences in a global context, and finds that the Latin American literature helps to predict the fates of presidents in other regions. The first stage of a selection model shows that presidents who are personally corrupt and preside over economic decline in contexts where democracy is paired with lower levels of GDP/capita are more likely to face challenges to their remaining in office for their entire terms. For the challenged presidents in this set, the risk of early termination increases when they use lethal force against their challengers, but decreases if they are corrupt. These factors help account for the disproportionately large number of South American presidents who have actually been forced from office, the “South American anomaly” of the title.

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