My main area of research is comparative politics. I have been studying contemporary populist forces in Europe, Latin America, and the US over the last few years. In particular, I am interested in showing that populist actors are posing legitimate questions about the current state of democracy, although their solutions are more controversial than helpful. I have been pursuing this research agenda on populism both independently as well as in collaboration with colleagues working in different parts of the world. At the same time, I am also working on other topics, such as right-wing parties and forces in Latin America and the transformation of the mainstream right in Western Europe. Below, I give a brief overview of the subjects that I seek to address in the coming years.
In the last few years, a growing number of scholars have been measuring the demand for populism; that is, there is an increase of studies that work with surveys to find out what kind of people tend to advance populist attitudes. Together with my colleague Steven van Hauwaert (University of Surrey), we are working with data from several countries in Europe and Latin America to detect the extent to which citizens who show high levels of populism share socio-economic and socio-political profiles. At the same time, we have a special interest in observing if those who sympathize with populist ideas have a particular vision of democracy. In fact, we are developing a research project that seeks to empirically analyze the relationship between populist attitudes and conception of democracy. Our working hypothesis is that citizens who sympathize with populism tend to prefer a model of illiberal democracy and, therefore, it is highly probable that the prerequisites for the proper functioning of liberal democracy are not sufficiently developed in important segments of the electorate.
Political identities are crucial for understanding electoral behavior: individuals who identify with a political party behave as loyal supporters who would hardly vote for competitors old or new. Although this is an obvious observation, pundits and academics alike tend to consider only positive identification, i.e. the extent to which individuals have a psychological attachment to a specific political party. However, negative identification, i.e. a psychological repulsion for a political party, also matters. With my colleague Carlos Meléndez (Universidad Diego Portales), we have been gathering survey data on negative political identities in several Latin American countries. Provisional analyses reveal that it is not support for but rejection of certain political parties that explains voting patterns (take, for instance, the role that negative feelings toward the Workers’ Party played in the recent elections in Brazil). Moreover, we are also studying the relationship between populist attitudes and positive/negative political identities. We have already published an article on this in Party Politics and we are currently collecting data for various countries around the world, which will allow us to work in comparative perspective and better understand how negative political identities tend to be related to support for or rejection of populist attitudes.
Given that populism puts liberal democracy under stress, there is a growing debate about how to deal with this phenomenon. In this context, the notion of “militant democracy” has been gaining ground in academic discussions by both legal scholars and political scientists. One may ask, then, if we can safeguard liberal democracy from populism by adopting a militant defense of unelected institutions, which can limit the maneuvering space of the populist forces and even ban them if necessary. To answer this question, I am interested in identifying the tensions that exist within theories of “militant democracy” (for example, the paradoxes of democratic self-destruction and self-harm) and showing that militant positions are of little use in dealing with populism. So far I have been able to write an article on the subject which will be published in Militant Democracy and its Critics, edited by Anthoula Malkopoulou and Alexander Kirshner. My idea is to continue working on this issue and to observe to what extent the dispute between populism versus anti-populism can jeopardize liberal democracy.
With my colleague Tim Bale (Queen Mary University of London), I am working on a project on the state and future of the mainstream right in Western Europe. The key argument is that mainstream right parties experience a tension between, on the one hand, the need to continue to appeal to well-heeled voters, many of whom express the liberal and progressive values associated with the “silent revolution” and, on the other hand, the need to appeal to voters who sympathize with the authoritarian and nativist ideas associated with the “silent counter-revolution” pursued by the populist radical right. Thanks to the funding of the Thyssen Foundation, we will organize a workshop in London in March 2019, in which invited scholars will present papers on eight case studies (Austria, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK). For this purpose, we have already written a framework for analysis with clear concepts, theoretical explanations and research questions that should be employed in the case studies. Our idea is to publish an edited volume on this topic and also explore further avenues of research related to the findings of the book in question.
Recent elections have shown an exhaustion of the left cycle that Latin America has been experiencing since the beginning of the 2000s. In Argentina, Brazil, and Chile there are now (center)right presidents and in many of their neighbors the (center)left is very divided and internally conflicted. However, there is very little research on the Latin American right. Together with my colleague Juan Pablo Luna (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), we published an edited book on this topic in 2014 and now I am interested in delving into certain aspects that have received little attention in the academic literature. Initially, I am investigating the case of Chile using “Manifesto Project” data, placing particular emphasis on the transformation of the right from 1990 onwards. My colleague Aldo Madariaga and I are finalizing a work that demonstrates a clear process of programmatic moderation of the Chilean right. At the same time, I am preparing a second paper that seeks to show how this process of programmatic moderation has orphaned a segment of the electorate, which could end up being mobilized by a new radical right-wing populist force.