LAC Main Seminar Series: Unmooring with Roots: Party System Decay Amidst Polarization in Argentina

Convener: David Doyle, University of Oxford

Speaker: Ezequiel González Ocantos, University of Oxford


Abstract: What is the relationship between polarisation and party system stability? Most of what we know comes from studies of the US. The story is one of stable mass partisanship, with overlap between positive and negative identities, and concomitant stability in electoral competition. This much is consistent with the expectations of Social Identity Theory and the literature on party system institutionalisation. Focusing on the US, however, limits our understanding of the conditions under which polarisation anchors competition. Can party system decay coexist with polarisation? If so, why? We dive deep into the markers of polarisation in Argentina, examining why extremely strong partisan rivalries were insufficient to prevent the rise of an outsider and party system decay. We rely on standard and innovative measurement instruments embedded in surveys and focus groups to describe (a) diverging interpretations of Argentina’s “grieta;” (b) ideological differences; (c) in/out-group stereotyping; (d) preferences for social distancing; and (e) ontological security heuristics. We argue that party system decay is explained by the lack of overlap between positive and negative identities on one pole, which eased supply side constraints, and the susceptibility of negative partisans to deficits in the “running tally.” We thus contribute to debates about the merits of polarisation, showing that in addition to its pernicious effects, we should examine the perils of polarisations prone to instability.