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Polyarchy in Five South American States: Assessing the Quality of Democracy in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela

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This paper measures the degree of polyarchy in five South American states (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela) since 1978 using a model developed by Altman and Pérez-Liñán (1999) and Centellas (1999). The model measures polyarchy in the electoral process along two axes: participation and competition. Our model follows Dahl’s basic premise that polyarchy re-quires high levels of both effective participation and political competition within a context of civil and political liberties. Effective participation is a function of voter turnout, modified to account for null/blank votes and votes for parties not elected to the legislature. Effective competition is a func-tion of the relative balance between government and opposition forces in the legislature. These measures should complement qualitative assessments of the progress of polyarchy in these five states and coincide with observed reality.
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  Polyarchy in Five South American States:Assessing the Quality of Democracy in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela byMiguel CentellasDepartment of Political Science3303 Friedmann HallWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazoo, MI 49008miguel.centellas@wmich.edu This paper measures the degree of polyarchy in five South American states (Bolivia, Colombia,Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela) since 1978 using a model developed by Altman and Pérez-Liñán(1999) and Centellas (1999). The model measures polyarchy in the electoral process along twoaxes: participation and competition. Our model follows Dahl’s basic premise that polyarchyrequires high levels of both effective participation and political competition within a context of civil and political liberties. Effective participation is a function of voter turnout, modified toaccount for null/blank votes and votes for parties not elected to the legislature. Effectivecompetition is a function of the relative balance between government and opposition forces in thelegislature. These measures should complement qualitative assessments of the progress of  polyarchy in these five states and coincide with observed reality. Prepared for delivery at the 58th Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association,  Chicago, 27-30 April 2000. I thank Emily Hauptmann and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán for their comments and advice. 2  Polyarchy in Five South American StatesIntroduction Twenty-five years after the beginning of democracy’s “third wave” (Huntington1991) we are presented with a virtual laboratory within which to study “democracy.”More countries select their governments by relatively free, fair, and competitive elections(a standard commonly deemed central to calling a country a “democracy”) today than atany other period in the world’s history. Still, we are not much closer to understanding theconditions favorable to the development of democracy than we were before the thirdwave began in 1974. Some progress has been made, of course. Robert Dahl points outthat “we have much better answers than could be obtained only a few generations agoand far better answers than at any earlier time in recorded history” (1999, 31). It is onlyrecently, after a substantial amount of time has passed since many of the “third wave”states took their tentative steps into the democratic world, that we are able to rigorouslytest more formal hypotheses. In short, despite the explosion of literature ondemocratization and democratic consolidation literature in recent years, we now stand atthe edge of a new horizon of social scientific exploration into the nature of “democracy”as a social scientific concept. This paper is only one preliminary attempt at such anexploration.David Collier and Steven Levitsky (1997) produced an important exploration intothe categorization of democracy qua democratization literature. Their work on“democracy with adjectives” is a rigorous discussion of alternate classification strategiesfor subtypes of democracy along theoretical criteria in order to “encourage scholars to bemore careful in their definition and use of concepts” (Collier and Levitsky 1997, 432). Itshould come as no surprise that Collier and Levitsky were spurred by the proliferation of democratic subtypes produced by the post-“third wave” literature. Their article is animportant attempt to unify these new democratic subtypes into a more coherentframework. Another approach to analytical within-type differentiation of democracies isan empirical one. Such is the approach pursued in this paper.Empirical studies of political concepts are driven by data —that is, by the realworld of cases. Aristotle conducted one of the earliest studies of politics. The Politics wasthe result of painstaking data collection and analysis of the Greek world. It was from thisdata that Aristotle formulated a six-category typology of political systems andsubsequently developed formal hypotheses about causal effects. This basic socialscientific approach has not changed substantially since the time of Aristotle. Thedevelopment of theories and hypotheses concerned with democracy and democratizationis still developed from available data —cases of democratic governments are observedand analyzed to find similarities and modal patterns that provide understanding of causalmechanisms or necessary conditions.The limited number of cases of polyarchy —both in time (only since the 1900s) 1 1 As Robert Dahl points out (e.g. 1971, 1999), the limitation of the suffrage to property holding menrestricted the “democratic” nature of those states. Since “polyarchy” means that the many rule, theexclusion of these groups —particularly women, who constitute approximately half of the adult population— means that no regime was a polyarchy until the early part of this century. 3  and space (predominantly in European countries)— severely restricted and over-determined causal models developed to produce empirical theories of democracy. Untilquite recently, it was widely accepted that democracy was a product of certain specificsocioeconomic or cultural variables. The harsh reality of the distribution of democracyaround the globe led to various ethnocentric notions of democracy’s necessary“preconditions” —including the now-laughable theory that climate was a significantfactor.Today there are approximately one hundred “democratic” countries in the world(including the island microstates). Most of the remaining countries make some claim todemocratic legitimacy. This means that for the first time in modern history, Europeanstates (or transplanted European states) no longer constitute the bulk of democratic states.Although European states still constitute a disproportionately higher number of democratic states than any other region, the recent rise in the number of non-Europeandemocratic cases allows for more careful testing of hypotheses about possible causes or   patterns of democracy. We now have a larger and more varied sample of countries for which data can be collected and analyzed. Careful collection of data allows for testing of  previous hypotheses concerning the causes or preconditions of democracy. Moreimportantly, the collection of data allows us to begin our study of democracy with a tabula rasa; we, as political scientists, can undertake an Aristotelian endeavor and begincategorizing regimes along various dimensions as well as disaggregating the componentsof their “constitutions” (using the Aristotelian understanding of the word) for analysis. 2  Subsequently, we should reconsider and rebuild democratic theory with a morevigorous and data-driven critical esprit  . This does not mean, of course, that we reject all previous theories. Our previous theories and hypotheses are still relevant to the progressof the discipline. But we must not attach ourselves too strongly to theories and hold fastto them in the face of contradictory empirical evidence. Instead, we political theoristsshould embrace the availability of new and more diverse data and methods. Dahl (1999) points out that after twenty-five centuries of political theory we are still not much closer to understanding what democracy is or how it comes to be. But, he also points out, wenow have more cases of democracy from which to develop and test better theories andhypotheses. I agree; the future of democratic theory is an open vista waiting to beexplored. Theory Georg Sørensen argues that a “narrow concept of democracy provides the mostadequate starting point” (1998, 11) for developing theories of democratization. He usesDahl’s concept of polyarchy to provide a minimalist definition of democracy as a political system. 3 The various conditions Dahl gives for polyarchy are combined into 2 For recent examples of such works, see Arend Lijphart and Carlos Waisman (1996), Kurt vonMettenheim (1997), Giovanni Sartori (1997), Thomas Manz and Moira Zuazo (1998), Dieter Nohlenand Mario Fernández (1998), Matthew S. Shugart and John Carey (1997), John Carey (1997), Emerson Niou and Peter Ordeshook (1997), and Philipe Schmitter (1997). 3 The distinction of democracy as a political system was advanced by Joseph Schumpeter (1942)and even more recently by authors such as Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan (1996). This does not mean,of course, that democracy was not understood as a  political system much earlier. Rather, the emphasis 4

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