On the Ballots, in the Streets or Under the Table: Explaining Agrarian Elites’ Political Strategies in Latin America
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Fernandez Milmanda, Maria Belen
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CitationFernandez Milmanda, Maria Belen. 2019. On the Ballots, in the Streets or Under the Table: Explaining Agrarian Elites’ Political Strategies in Latin America. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractHow do agrarian elites protect themselves from redistribution in urban democracies? Against a well-established theoretical tradition in comparative politics which holds that landowners’ interests are incompatible with democracy, this dissertation shows that agrarian elites can use democratic institutions to protect themselves from redistribution. I study landowners’ strategies for exerting political influence since re-democratization in three countries, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. My analysis identifies the conditions under which agrarian elites will participate in the electoral arena, and the factors that shape their electoral strategies.
I argue that agrarian elites’ strategies of political influence are shaped by two factors: (1) the level of threat they perceive and (2) their level of intra-group fragmentation. First, the threat that democratic governments may implement redistributive policies that jeopardize the continuity of their business (e.g., agrarian reform) gives agrarian elites the incentives to organize in the electoral arena. Absent this threat, rural elites will not invest in electoral representation. Second, the way landowners organize their electoral participation is conditioned by their degree of fragmentation. Where landed elites are a cohesive group, they will engage in party-building. By contrast, where significant cleavages exist among agrarian elites, higher coordination costs will hinder party-building.
My research draws on a range of qualitative and quantitative data gathered during a year of fieldwork in nine locations in the three countries. The main data source is a set of 158 in-depth interviews conducted with key actors, including leaders of producers’ associations, high-ranking public officials, and federal and state level legislators. I supplement this evidence with data from newspaper archives, business associations’ publications, legislative debates, and election and campaign contribution records.
The dissertation makes two main theoretical contributions. First, it helps us understand why democracy may perpetuate inequality, by examining how economic elites organize in the electoral arena to block redistributive policies. Second, it shows that economic elites can achieve electoral representation in the absence of strong conservative parties. This is important because the representation of elite interests is crucial for democratic consolidation, but party-building has become increasingly more difficult in the contemporary context.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42013037
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