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The High-Low Divide: Rethinking Populism and Anti-Populism



This paper introduces a crucial dimension for the spatial and comparative analysis of party systems, cleavages, and the conduct of political campaigns. It presents the concepts of “high” and “low” in politics, and the related high-low dimension. High and low are about ways of appealing, and thus relating, to people in sociologically differentiated ways. Politicians on the high are “well behaved,” more restrained, and proper, both in manners and institutional procedures. Politicians on the low sublimate less and are more down-to-earth, coarser, earthier, and personalistic, both in manners and institutionally. The high-low dimension is fully neutral, or orthogonal, with regard to the left-right axis. We argue that this is in sharp contrast to Kitschelt’s authoritarian/libertarian divide or to Inglehart’s materialist/post-materialist political cleavage. The paper also provides a solid conceptual discussion of the classic and quasi universal polarity between left and right, which (like the high-low axis) is in fact comprised of two subdimensions. Together, the high-low and left-right dimensions form a two-dimensional space of politics highly useful for characterizing certain political arenas and political strategies. The concept of “low” moreover provides a much-needed, uncontroversial, and highly intuitive central component of the definition of populism. It also brings to the fore the neglected phenomenon of anti-populism. Finally, the paper illustrates the relevance of the high-low dimension in Argentina, with its “double political spectrum” divided between Peronism and anti-Peronism, Venezuela with Chavismo and anti-Chavismo, and Ecuador.
Political Concepts
Committee on Concepts and Methods
Working Paper Series
November 2009
The High-Low Political Divide
Rethinking Populism and Anti-Populism
Pierre Ostiguy
Instituto de Ciencia Política
Universidad Católica de Chile
The Committee on Concepts and Methods
International Political Science Association
Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences
Andreas Schedler (CIDE, Mexico City)
Editorial Board
José Antonio Cheibub, University of Illinois at
David Collier, University of California, Berkeley
Michael Coppedge, University of Notre Dame
John Gerring, Boston University
Russell Hardin, New York University
Evelyne Huber, University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill
James Johnson, University of Rochester
Gary King, Harvard University
Bernhard Kittel, University of Oldenburg
James Mahoney, Brown University
Cas Mudde, University of Antwerp
Gerardo L. Munck, University of Southern
California, Los Angeles
Guillermo O’Donnell, University of Notre Dame
Amy Poteete, Concordia University, Montreal
Frederic C. Schaffer, University of
Massachusetts, Amherst
Ian Shapiro, Yale University
Kathleen Thelen, Northwestern University
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This paper was published in July 2009 as a Kellogg Institute Working Paper. I want to thank
both the director and the staff of the Kellogg Institute, without whom, clearly and unquestion-
ably, my ideas would never have materialized in the tangible form of the present paper.
This paper was made possible because of the encouragement, faith, and practical sense of Scott
Mainwaring. I want to thank Elizabeth Rankin for the multiple rounds of patient editing.
I am also grateful to several of my Berkeley graduate student colleagues from the late 1990s, as
well as to David Collier, a pioneer of “concepts and methods,” for, among other things, forcing
me to settle on a single set of labels for the conceptual political categories I am introducing in
this paper.
This paper introduces a crucial dimension for the spatial and comparative analysis of
party systems, cleavages, and the conduct of political campaigns. It presents the concepts of
“high” and “low” in politics and the UHODWHGhigh-low dimension. High and low are about ways
of appealing, and thus relating, to people in sociologically differentiated ways. Politicians on the
high are “well behaved,” more restrained, and proper, both in manners and institutional proce
dures. Politicians on the low sublimate less and are more down-to-earth, coarser, earthier,
and personalistic, both in manners and institutionally. The high-low dimension is fully neutral, or
orthogonal, with regard to the left-right axis. We argue that this is in sharp contrast to Kitschelt’s
authoritarian/libertarian divide or WRInglehart’s materialist/post-materialist political cleavage.
The paper also provides a solid conceptual discussion of the classic and cuasi universal polarities
of left and right, which (like the high-low axis) is in fact comprised of two subdimensions.
Together, the high-low and left-right dimensions IRUPa two-dimensional space of
politics highly useful for characterizing certain political arenas and political strategies. The
concept of “low” moreover provides a much-needed, uncontroversial, and highly intuitiveFHQWUDO
FRPSRQHQWRI WKHGHILQLWLRQRIpopulism. It also brings to the fore the neglected phenomenon of
anti-populism. Finally, the paper illustrates the relevance of the high-low dimension in
Argentina, with its “double political spectrum” divided between Peronism and anti-Peronism,
Venezuela with Chavismo and anti-Chavismo, and Ecuador.
Ostiguy 1
This article identifies and introduces a crucial dimension in political competition
and oppositions for the spatial and comparative analysis of party systems, social and
political cleavages, and the conduct of political campaigns. This dimension concerns
appeals by political actors, but it is equally useful for understanding the social reception
of their political appeals and spatial positioning. While intuitively familiar, this key
dimension has not previously been named and incorporated in the study of political
behavior and the comparative analysis of political divides. Therefore, to characterize an
important dimension that structures candidates’ political strategies and even certain party
systems, this article introduces the concepts of “high” and “low” in politics. Just like the
left and right poles, together they form a high-low political dimension, axis, and scale.
In contrast to many other dimensions which have already been introduced in
political science, such as the libertarian and authoritarian or the materialist and post-
materialist ones, the high-low dimension is fully neutral, or orthogonal, with regard to the
classic left-right axis. Left and right undoubtedly order most party systems around the
world. Unlike other arguably orthogonal political divides such as separatism/federalism
or religion/secularism, the high-low dimension is also, like left and right themselves, a
manifestation in politics of social and cultural inequality. But it relates to inequality in a
very different way than do left and right and in a way normatively disfavored by most
scholars. Together, the high-low and left-right axes make up a two-dimensional space of
politics which is highly useful for the study of political strategy, the analysis of the social
reception of political appeals, and, where political differences evolved into a political
cleavage, entire party systems.
The empirical puzzle that furnished the early starting point for this spatial
conceptualization of political arenas and actors has been the cleavage between Peronism
and anti-Peronism in Argentina, observed firsthand over two decades. However, the
concepts of high and low in politics travel remarkably well and are not specific to a
particular case. The high-low dimension is a middle-range phenomenon. One challenge is
thus to explore the conditions that lead to the emergence of arenas that are politically
structured more in terms of high and low than left and right or liberal and conservative.
The degree of relevance of high and low for the politics of different societies
varies widely. The high-low dimension seems particularly relevant in “third-wave”
2 Ostiguy
democracies. At its greatest level of relevance, the high-low axis is the dimension
defining the main political cleavage of a given country, thus structuring its entire party
system. In Latin America, this has been the case in Argentina for over half a century and
is largely the case in Venezuela. At the simplest and most modest level, high-low
political differences can be clearly observable between political candidates, but they do
not structure political competition. The electoral impact is then at the margins, for
example, among undecided voters or voters with no established political identities. The
older, well-established party systems of Western Europe and the US have already been
structured around a left-right divide broadly defined. More inchoate party systems, be
they recent, the product of collapsed older party systems, or simply a result of lack of
institutionalization, are a particularly fertile terrain for the development of the high-low
dimension. In Ecuador for example, where no party system has yet become
institutionalized but where political competition takes place in fair electoral contests, the
high-low dimension has played a historic role in the alignment of political actors and as
an axis of electoral competition and political preferences. Comparative political studies of
electoral politics and party systems in developing countries and “third-wave”
democracies will thus have to reckon seriously with this political axis.
The high-low political categories fill an important gap in political analysis. To
mention one instance, Peronism in Argentina was considered at the end of the Second
World War to be clearly on the right of the political spectrum; from the 1960s to the
1980s, it was thought to be on the left of the spectrum and to the left of anti-Peronism; in
the 1990s, Peronism was once again considered on the right of the political spectrum and
to the right of anti-Peronism; in the early part of this decade, Peronism in power was
again somewhat to the left of the political spectrum. With the proper analytic tools, it is
clear that no perplexing leapfrogging occurred along what is, in fact, the main axis of
political competition in that country. To be analytically oblivious of the high-low
dimension frequently leads scholars to mischaracterize a party system where personalistic
politics is important as an inchoate one, especially in the absence of defined and stable
party programs, while political competition may in reality be highly structured: in terms
of high and low. Most fundamentally yet, high and/or low appeals in politics allow us to
easily account for the electoral success of conservative politicians among a popular-
Ostiguy 3
sector electorate or, inversely, of progressive candidates or parties among upper-middle
class and even wealthy voters. The high-low dimension in politics is thus a fundamental
tool in the political sociology of electoral behavior and political divides.
Already, Inglehart and Klingemann (1976: 26469) as well as Knutsen (1988:
34549) have unequivocally de-linked left-right attitudes from class positions, in sharp
contrast with earlier work in political sociology, in which class position was even part of
the definition of left and right (Lipset 1981: 127130). Recognizing that left and right are
appeals, including structured principles and values for many voters, does not necessarily
mean that political sociology in general, and class analysis in particular, are moribund
undertakings. Social differencesincluding those regarding social status, income,
education, and tastesmay express themselves in manifold ways in politics, with the
high-low dimension being a crucial one.
Roadmap. The paper first introduces the concepts of high and low in politics, discussing
them theoretically. The political dimension that they form together is thus described and
analyzed. Taking stock of the vast literature on the topic, the next section provides a
synthetic conceptualization of the essential and classical concepts of “left” and “right” in
The following section of the article dispels some all-too-frequent
misunderstandings regarding the present high-low dimension and the two-dimensional
political space associated with it. The present framework, it should be emphasized again,
is a political space, not a social space about social status or other social variables. The
relationship between political appeals, policy programs, and political identities must also
be clarified. Certainly, the framework attempts to be normatively neutral. We show the
attractiveness of each side of the high-low divide, as one should also be able to do with
the left-right divide.
The definition of the low in politics actually provides a crisp and intuitive
definition of the highly contested concept of populism. In the process, it also highlights
the neutrality of populism, often forgotten in the heat of debates, with regard to left and
right. Scholars have at times assumed populism to be left-of-center because of its
economic policies or social basis or right-of-center because of its top-down authoritarian
4 Ostiguy
nature or the damage it creates to the republican institutions of liberal democracy. While
“populism” is generally mentioned in isolation from the countervailing political (and
normative) reaction it generates, the low is actually one of two poles of what is a
dimension, a scale.
The final section of the article is comparative, showing how high and low apply in
a few of the settings where they are clearly at work. This section suggests that the terms
travel well, and it illustrates how these concepts can be used by scholars of democracy,
parties, and party systems, especially in the study of third-wave democracies.
High and Low, Left and Right in Politics
This article starts squarely and explicitly with theoretical concepts. In turn, those
concepts can be easily operationalized to produce indicators useful for the analysis of
political behavior. In contrast to various forms of factor analysis (including principal
components analysis) and to multidimensional scaling (MDS)all of which have their
research starting point in the questions of opinion pollsmy starting point is embedded
in “theory-intensive” categories.
While fascinating as statistical techniques, the claims of MDS and factor analysis
to a pre-theoretical empiricism have two benign shortcomings. First, the survey questions
themselves must be somewhat theoretically driven; otherwise, statistical work will
obviously not provide very meaningful results. Second, in the case of factor analysis, the
factors that are found must then be named, thus involving conceptually educated and
theoretically driven guesses. In the case of MDS, the researcher must find meaningful
dimensions in the map obtained; these dimensions must then also be theoretically
interpreted and named.
Statistic-intensive empirical methods thus cannot escape the need
for theoretical grounding at both their beginning and end points.
Spatially, the high-low and left-right axes are neutral or orthogonal with regard to
one another. Together they give rise to a two-dimensional political space of appeals.
Ostiguy 5
High and low. The high-low axis is made up, and defined, by two subdimensions or
components. Intuitively, what the two components have in common is that they relate to
ways of being and acting in politics.
Both components are, in that sense, “cultural” and
very concreteperhaps more concrete than left and right. High and low have to do with
ways of relating to people; as such, they go beyond “discourses” as mere words, and they
include issues of accents, level of language, body language, gestures, ways of dressing,
etc. As a way of relating to people, they also encompass the way of making decisions.
These different aspects may be more difficult to change in a credible way than are left-
right positioning. As importantly, when social-cultural identities already exist in a
society, high and low political appeals and positions allow the voter to recognize a
politician as credibly “one of ours.” High and low are thus not superficially or faddishly
about style, but link deeply with a society’s history, existing group differences, identities,
and resentments. They even involve different criteria for judging what is likeable and
morally acceptable in a candidate.
Theoretically and conceptually, the high-low axis consists of two closely related
subdimensions or components: the social-cultural and the political-cultural. These
subdimensions, like those constitutive of left and right, stand at an angle, but a much
sharper angle (as we shall see) than that between the two subdimensions of the left-right
schema. Although the two constitutive subdimensions are not reducible to one another,
high and low therefore appear much more unequivocally unidimensional, in a Downsian
way, than left and right in fact are.
The first component of the high-low axis is the social-cultural appeal in politics.
This component encompasses manners, demeanors, ways of speaking and dressing,
vocabulary, and tastes displayed in public. On the high, people publicly present
themselves as well behaved, proper, composed, and perhaps even bookish. Moreover,
politicians on the high are often “well-mannered,”
perhaps even polished, in public self-
presentation and tend to use either a rationalist (at times replete with jargon) or ethically
oriented discourse. Negatively, they can appear as stiff, rigid, serious, colorless,
somewhat distant, and boring.
On the low, people frequently use a language that
includes slang or folksy expressions and metaphors, are more demonstrative in their
6 Ostiguy
bodily or facial expressions as well as in their demeanor, and display more raw, culturally
popular tastes.
Politicians on the low are capable of being more uninhibited in public and
are also more apt to use coarse or popular language. They appearto the observer on the
high—as more “colorful” and, in the very extreme cases, somewhat grotesque.
While we
may wish to call this subdimension class-cultural, I have found that it is empirically most
closely correlated, though not synonymous, with education level. For example, in the US,
Al Gore was certainly to the high of Ross Perot, even though Perot is much wealthier and
clearly a part of the “bourgeoisie.”
This first, social-cultural, component is in fact a politicization of the social
markers emphasized in the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu in his classic work of social
theory on taste and aesthetics (1979). From a different theoretical perspective, it is a
politicization of thein fact, empirically quite similardifferences in concrete manners
at the core of Norbert Elias’ seminal work (1982 [1939], also 1986). Bourdieu
emphasizes cultural capital as a “legitimate” form of distinction or, as I would call it for
present purposes, a credential and a mark of respectability. Elias’ historical sociology, on
the other hand, was more concerned about a gradual, irregular, and long-term process of
“civilization” in manners.
In both social theorists’ works, however, one pole of the
spectrumwhether long-term historical or class relatedis a certain kind of propriety
(and even distinction or refinement) that is legitimate by prevailing international
standards, especially in the more developed countries. From that peculiar standpoint, the
popular classes’ and certain “third-world” practices often appear as more “backward,”
less “slick.” It is indifferent to my purpose that Bourdieu views in a very negative light
the function and effects of class habitus, while Elias very much approved of the
“civilizing process” at work in Western-European culture over the long term. What is of
interest here is the concrete spectrum of practices. In the local instance of Argentina, for
example, there were perhaps no greater political extremes on the high-low spectrum than
those that existed in 1988 between Argentina’s two main contenders for the presidency:
Carlos Menem, known locally as the “Tiger of Anillaco,” with his huge sideburns,
flaunting his raw sexual tastes, riding on top of a garbage truck in the slums or galloping
on horseback dressed in a poncho, versus the rather stiff, “proper,” and “respectable”
Civic Radical Union Radicales Eduardo Angeloz or Fernando De la Rúa.
Figure 1a
Constitutive Dimensions of High-Low Appeals in Politics
Well-behaved, Stiff
Culturally popular
Personal authority
Strong (virile or affectionate) leader
Institutionally mediated,
Impersonal Authority
Proceduralism, Legalism
Formal ways
Physical proximity
Dirt / “bosta”
(“and what you do with it”) / para ladrillos
7a Ostiguy
Constitutive Dimensions of Left-Right Appeals in Politics
Pro increased equality of
economic distribution
Defense of property rights and
differential entitlements
Anti-Authority and
hierarchical power relations
Pro-Authority and
concern for public and social order
Critical of traditional values
and authority
Defense of traditional values
and social relations
Political Socioeconomic
Figure 1b
7b Ostiguy
8 Ostiguy
Although sociocultural differences are present in all societies, and are even at
times very sharp and meaningful, these differences are usually not constitutive of given
political identities. For example, although sharp class-cultural differences existed in
England throughout the twentieth century, they did not define in politics different party
alternatives or what Labour and the Tories are about. Rather, the Labour Party appealed
to working-class voters largely in socioeconomic terms. Sociocultural differences
remained largely outside the political arena. One is hard-pressed to find a Labour leader
speaking with a cockney accent; and while heavy drinking and loud singing at the pub is
part of British working-class identity, it is not specifically associated with the Labour
Party or its leaders. In some cases, however, sociocultural differences do become
politicized. That is, manners, publicized tastes, language, and mode of behavior in public
do become associated with, and even defining of, political identities. In such cases, social
identities with their many cultural attributes interact with political identities. They do so
through different ways of appealing to (or “relating” with) supporters and, inversely,
through different criteria for finding a given candidate more likable or trustworthy, i.e.,
the two directions embedded in political representation. These appeals are not only
differences in style, although they certainly are that. They are public manifestations of
recognizably social aspects of the self in society (as well as the self’s desires) that
contribute to creating a social sense of trust based on an assumption of sameness, or
coded understanding. In that regard, one can speak not only of politicians but also of
parties being on the high or on the low.
The second component of the high-low axis of appeals in politics is political-
cultural. This component is about forms of political leadership and preferred (or
advocated) modes of decision-making in the polity. On the high, political appeals consist
of claims
to favor formal, impersonal, legalistic, institutionally mediated models of
authority. On the low, political appeals emphasize very personalistic, strong (generally
male) leadership.
Personal versus impersonal authority is perhaps a good synthesis of
this polarity. The pole arguing for impersonal authority generally claims to represent
“procedural normalcy” (at least as a goal to be achieved) in the conduct of public life,
along with formal and generalizable
procedures in public administration. The
Ostiguy 9
personalist pole generally claims to be much closer to “the people” and to represent them
better than the pole claiming (or arguing) for a more impersonal, procedural, proper
model of authority.
This particular subdimension has acquired particular relevance in the
contemporary study of Latin American politics. In various countries of the continent, it
moved to the political front stage in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Political science
scholars have also recently devoted a fair amount of energy to issues pertaining to this
and it has also been a central element of the 1990s debate on neo-populism
initiated by Kurt Weyland (e.g., 1996) and Ken Roberts (1995).
In the field, one finds, on the lowusing the language of some of these actors
the appeals of leaders con pelotas” (“with balls”) who know how to lead the people.
These leaders often also claim that they “don’t talk, but get things done.” To quote a
retired Argentine colonel on the low, Aldo Rico, they “doubt” less, as “doubt is the
bragging of intellectuals.”
In a classic statement on Adhemar de Barros in Brazil, it was
said without shame that: “Rouba, mas faz!”—that is, “He steals, but he gets things
The low entails a preference for decisive action, often at the expense of some
“formalities,” while the high values the “niceties” that accompany the rule of law.
Despite the high’s claim to greater propriety, however, it is not clear which pole most
respects electoral rules, as of the legitimate mode of determining political power.
What do these two components of the high-low axis have in common? In practice,
and as unusual as it may sound, it is clearly the level of sublimation and of suppression
that is judged ideal in the exercise of leadership and authority. The high is definitely more
abstract and restrained, claiming to be more proper, whether in manners or in procedure.
It is also colder, including (comparatively) in the reaction it triggers among supporters.
The low is more concrete and into immediacy. Perceptions of immediacy have important
implications with respect to establishing relations with la gente (“regular” people) or el
pueblo (“the people”). Personalism can also be seen as warmer and easier to relate to.
The low generally does not worry overly much about appearing improper in the eyes of
the international community and also at times apparently seems to enjoy it.
10 Ostiguy
These characteristics are important not only or mainly as cultural markers of
social differences, but as cultural modes, or ways of being, that play a large part in the
“economy of affection and dislikes” in social relations—whether direct or imagined.
This phenomenon comes to the fore in common utterances such as: “I don’t want to
associate with ese tipo de gente(“that kind of people”) or “I don’t want people like that
in government,” or even more simply: “Yes, I can relate to [name of politician]!”
A similar way of stating the same point from an institutionalist perspective, now
focusing solely on the political-cultural component, is that political authority on the low
is less mediated.
Mediation undoubtedly involves a more sublimated type of practice,
whereas behavior on the low, in terms of both dimensions, is certainly more “crass”
direct. To use a vivid metaphor, one could speak, in Levi Strauss’ famous terms, of “raw”
and “cooked.” “Cruder” and “more refined,” are also, from the standpoint of the high, a
correct approximation on the social-cultural subdimension of high and low. Undoubtedly,
most intellectuals have preferredand are locatedon the high.
On the other hand,
poorer and less educated people have often enjoyed and preferred the less sublimated
cultural expressions and discourse of politicians on the low, as well as the personalization
of power and social services that have often gone with it, as under Evita and Juan Perón
or Hugo Chávez. Low movements on the right are always personalistic.
As a last observation, it should be noted that the “immediate” is more concrete,
“immanent,” earthy, and culturally localist (“from here”), while the reverse is true of
abstracting mediation. The high tends to justify its concerns in more abstract terms and to
convey them through more “universalizing,” less culturally localized language. This
high-low contrast is thus logically related to the polarity between “nativism” and
“cosmopolitanism,” the “guts from within” and the “mirada desde afuera” (the gaze from
the outside). On the culturally popular low pole, specific expressions and practices can
only be taken from a particular, culturally bounded repertoire, even though the general
themes may be common to those on the high. In contrast, in “cosmopolitanism” there is
something that, by definition, must allow its beholder to “travel” and have an acceptable
This secondary aspect, i.e., “cultural nativism” and “cosmopolitanism,” is
about localist traits
and cultural practices; it does not entail policies, such as anti-
immigration policies, nationalization of foreign-owned industries, anti-imperialist
Ostiguy 11
measures, and so forth. Forms of appeal are modes in which politicians and leaders
express themselves and relate to their electorate, to a certain desired clientele. In
Argentina for example, where the high has always been much more culturally
cosmopolitan than the low, the “from here” versus “from there” polarity sets a peculiar
form of rhetorical nationalism against an idealized and abstract view of “institutional”
processes and “ways of being,” allegedly copied from developed countries. This situation
is arguably widespread in semi-peripheral, “third-world,” or late developing societies.
The “universal” left-right axis in politics. The left-right axis is the political axis that
orders most party systems and party competitions in democracies around the world.
terms of definition, conceptually, there are also two dimensions constituting the left-right
axis or scale (Figure 1), a finding supported by both survey analysis about that scale
by political history.
These two constitutive dimensions of left and right are, however, at an angle in
relation to one another, as illustrated in Figure 1. This angle can be measured statistically,
through factor analysis or principal component analysis. According to Shafer and
Claggett, in the US the angle is very small at the elite level but approaches
perpendicularity at the mass public level (1995: 2324). Most quantitative analyses of
Western European politics show a high level of correlation (i.e., a small angle) between
the two dimensions of left and right, even among the mass public.
In the absence of
another relevant political axis (such as high and low, or separatist and federalist, etc.), it
is actually possible to have a political space constituted of four quadrants defined by
these two oblique dimensions of left and right (Figure 1). Since the angles are clearly not
orthogonal, however, it is not surprising that, in the US, both poles on the left-hand side
have been called “liberal” and both poles on the right-hand side “conservative”—even
though they differ from one another and alliances across the obtuse angles are not
The first and perhaps most well-known dimension defining the left-right axis is
the socioeconomic policy one between, on one pole, appeals for more equal economic
distribution and, on the other, appeals that favor established property rights and
Calls for nationalization and for a greater governmental role in the
12 Ostiguy
economy, half a century ago, were rightly understood as an attack on dominant economic
interests and, by the left, as policies that would increase the welfare of the majority (at the
expense of the previous owners).
The same logic and polarities held true for the debates
on the expansion and financing of the welfare state, which, according to the left, also
implied greater protection for the destitute. Tax debates also belong to this dimension of
left and right. Efforts to reduce income inequality, even at the expense of established
entitlements, are still very much at the core of this dimension of left and right. At the
global level, a similar debate and polarity now also exists, and not even mainly in
reference to the extent of aid to the “third world.” Calls to protect the patents and rights
of, for example, the pharmaceutical industry against generic drug production (e.g.,
against AIDS) in the third world and the appeal of third-world countries against such
calls also follow that polarity. Youth and grass roots movements for greater regulation of
world trade and investment is perhaps the newest form of the left. In other words, the left
pole of this dimension favors a greater role for politics in producing more equal
economic distribution, whether this is through state intervention, self-management,
regulations, or any other devices.
Left or right appeals, in this dimension, generally
refer to public measures that are perceived to have differential socioeconomic effects
(especially for the very rich or for the have-nots/laborers/popular sectors/”people”). Some
authors have referred to this dimension as the “old left” versus what should logically be
called the “old right,” although it is very far from certain that it is passé. The policies
advocated may have changed, as well as the arena of conflict, which is now more global,
but this dimension of the left-right axis remains definitionally and conceptually the same.
The second dimension of left and right is the political dimension of attitudes
toward order and authority or, more precisely, toward the necessary exertion of
hierarchical authority required by social life. This dimension, certainly as important
politically and theoretically as the first one, can be said in a more recognizable way to be
about attitudes toward hierarchical power relations and the desirability of public and
social order.
This subdimension is, in a sense, about attitudes toward “the Father”: God, the
patriarch, or the one who gives order. The left, on this dimension, is anti-God, anti-
patriarchal, against the boss, i.e., somewhat “parricidal” and “horizontalizing” in terms of
Ostiguy 13
social structure and hierarchy. The most extreme examples are certainly the anarchists,
but radical feminism, many countercultural movements throughout the ages, or student
movements are all good political examples. The other pole of this dimension, on the
right, is pro-law-and-order, pro-paterfamilias, pro-authority. Pro-law-and-order
conservatives andin difficult, disorderly, and anomic timessupport for military
dictators or fascist leaders who reestablish public order are examples close to one end of
that spectrum.
To a certain extent, some authors have preferred to refer to this dimension as a
conflict between the new right and the new left. Although this dimension of left and right
is highly relevant in politics, I remain skeptical about the extent to which it is in fact
conceptually “new.” The overall polarity is ancient, and that second dimension of left and
right is also, in reality, probably more important than the socioeconomic one in the
origins of the left-right semantic itself at the time of the French Revolution. Certainly, the
severe conflict in Spain between the anarchists and the Franco forces ran mostly,
although not only, along this second dimension. Some of the issue-appeals used in survey
research as indicators to measure positions that to a large extent fall on this dimension
are, however, new.
For example, the Eurobarometer has been using indicators such as
support for military defense, more severe penalties for acts of terrorism, the right to
choose abortion, and stronger measures to protect the environment from human
In a similar vein, the post-materialist/materialist divide taps, to a large
extent, into what is basically a critical attitude toward traditional values and authority and
also toward rigid imposition of modern bureaucratic “system” authority—in both cases in
the name of self-expression and self-determination. “Materialism”, to be sure, is a much
broader category than “post-materialism,” as it explicitly includes the two types of right
(capital accumulation; security and order) as well as, at least theoretically, the economic
left! The concern for public and social order is equivalent to Kitschelt’s emphasis on law
and order, public morality (Kitschelt et al. 1999: 67, 70, 140, 26973, 41819), and
hierarchical modes of collective decision-making (1992: 13), on one pole of what he has
formally called a “social-cultural” divide (67), but has now recently (and to us, more
appropriately) also called “political-cultural” (referring to “political governance”).
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These two dimensions of the left-right axis are observable in many, if not most,
countries, including the US itself. One hears of the New Deal old left versus a right that
fights big government and welfare, wants lower taxes, and, more generally, defends
property rights. This dimension is often associated, socially, with labor versus capital,
unions versus big business. As Knutsen (1988) has forcefully argued, however, one
should not confuse the left-right “Materialist” ideological cleavage with the class or
social status structural cleavage, as the two have empirically become increasingly
independent, without the former losing its political relevance.
Certainly, attitudes
towards property rights, social inequality, and, in our capitalist societies, the free
operation of market forces are key litmus tests of socioeconomic left-right positioning.
One has equally witnessed, again including in the US, youth countercultural
movements in politics, or has heard criticisms by conservatives of liberals’ undermining
of “family values,” the public role of religion (e.g., at school), police law enforcement,
and, in the US, the people’s rights to bear arms. On the left, those on that pole of this
second left-right dimension have typically been the student movement (whether in its
May 68 or Californian form), culturally “experimental” people in the arts (e.g., in music
and painting), or adepts of alternative religions or utopian politics.
Sociologically, those
at the other pole are often more rural, family-production oriented peoplewith the older
males being more vocal. In Latin America, the right pole of this dimension has been
typically located, historically, in sectors of the armed forces
and, not infrequently, of
the church (e.g., Opus Dei), as well as, in extreme forms, among paramilitary leaders.
These two (sub)dimensions of left and right are quite inescapable; they are also
not theoretically reducible to one another. In the absence of another relevant axis, these
oblique dimensions could even form the basis of four political quadrants, as is arguably
perhaps the case in the US. A winning political strategy, in this case, is to attempt to
combine three quadrants (downplaying the opposition between the two opposite poles
included) against the fourth one. Such was arguably the strategy of Bill Clinton,
combining the value liberal pole with both the trade-union basis and the owners of the
new economy (see Figure 1), or of Ronald Reagan, clearly on the value right and
appealing at the same time to capital owners and to nonunionized, white, working-class
“Reagan democrats.” Combining the poles across the obtuse angles is not impossible: the
Ostiguy 15
influential New York Times combined value liberal and pro-free-market economics in the
1990s; similarly, it is often argued that the forgotten non-unionized white working-class
American majority is receptive to both of the poles shown at the lower end of Figure 1.
That is, class-educational differences are in fact more noticeable across the divide
defined “vertically” by the two obtuse angles, than across the usual liberal-conservative,
left-right divide defined by the more closely correlated sharp angles (Figure 1).
In his “smallest space analysis,” Inglehart observed how in Europe “although a
broad left-right dimension is visible…, closer examination reveals how this dimension
actually subsumes two distinct components: the traditional left-right polarization and a
New Politics dimension” (1990: 275); he then also draw four quadrants defined by these
oblique dimensions. In practice, however, these two dimensions have generally merged,
tactically, and even in terms of “common sense,” along a unidimensional political scale.
In many countries, the left-right axis is in fact the only one that significantly orders
parties, issues, politicians, or voters in the party system. In the US, the two distinct
dimensions merged decades ago under the labels “liberals” and “conservatives.”
At the most generic level, we partake of the consensual conclusions arrived at
separately by Inglehart, Laponce, or Bobbio, that is, that “the core meaning of the Left-
Right whether one supports or opposes social change in an egalitarian
direction” (Inglehart 1990: 293) or, almost identically, that it is “the attitude of real
people in society to the ideal of equality” (Bobbio 1996: 60). The left, to follow
Laponce’s imagery, is certainly—and not only with regard to income or class
”horizontalizing” (1981).
While equality has been at the core of this unabashedly left-centered definition of
the axis, perhaps a less skewed perspective would more accurately underline tensions
between appeals to economic growth (per se) and social justice (per se)
on the
socioeconomic dimension, and between appeals for public order and security versus
“entropic” emancipation on the public-political dimension. “Left” should be
conceptualized, overall, as political projects and actors who aim to transform the
structure of social power, socioeconomic or otherwise, in an egalitarian direction. The
“right” are political projects and actors aiming to protect a societal (i.e., socioeconomic
or other) structure of power against attacks searching to erode or destroy it. The right also
16 Ostiguy
includes projects and actors aiming to achieve political transformation in order to
strengthen such structures or even to restore them to an earlier state. A structuring order
is always clothed as a moral order (in what is often doxa for the actor), and the right
indeed usually takes the public defense of thispsychologically structuringgiven
moral order quite to heart.
It should be noted that when it comes to situating political actors, whether it is in
terms of the left-right or the high-low scale, one of the two subdimensions appears to be
cognitively dominant. For placement on the left-right scale, analysts often put greater
weight, cognitively, on the socioeconomic distribution subdimension. Similarly, scholars
who have been introduced to the high-low spectrum often appear to put greater weight,
cognitively, on the social-cultural dimension.
This tendency is perhaps due to the still
dominant position of the social over the political (including questions of authority and
order) in our minds when it comes to “verticality” in society, since the social tends to be
more concrete.
A two-dimensional political space. The orthogonal left-right and high-low axes, together,
form a two-dimensional political space of appeals, in which we can locate actors, parties,
and politicians. This basic political space is illustrated in Figure 2 and is used throughout
this work. As we will see in the conclusion, it also travels very well to several, but not
most, other political arenas in Latin America and the rest of the world. Its relevance lies
not only in its characterizing possibilities and in being a theoretically solid schema:
location along each of those two axes also has fundamental consequences in the societal
reception of political appeals and in the sociology of the vote. Furthermore, as the space is
two-dimensional instead of unidimensional, it allows for a variety of possible
combinations of political alliances, as well as, crucially, a variety of very dissimilar
political strategies for appealing to similar social sectors in the electorate. For example, it
is quite possible as a right-wing politician to appeal to the popular sectors by being on the
low, while the task of left-wing politicians seeking to maintain support among those same
popular sectors may become more difficult if they are on the high-left, as is often the
Low-Left Low-Right
A Two-Dimensional Political Space
of Positions and Appeals
Figure 2
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18 Ostiguy
A clear analytical advantage of the political space of appeal delineated in Figure 2
is that the left-right axis (scale, dimension) and the high-low axis are fully neutral, or
orthogonal in relation to one another. That is, any combination is not only possible, as is
commonly the case in spaces configured by non-orthogonal axes,
but equally possible.
The same is not true of Kitschelt’s (1992; 1994) initial political space, in which
the libertarian pole is, by definition, decidedly tilted to the left. Indeed, Kitschelt (1992:
13) states that his “use of the of the concept of ‘libertarian’ is rooted in the
European...convention that associates the term with anarchist and syndicalist theories of
direct democracy, sympathetic to the self-organization of autonomous individuals and
voluntary association in collective decision-making processes.” It is difficult to conceive
of anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists as being on the right (in fact, there is nothing to the
left of anarcho-syndicalism!). Indeed, much of this libertarian-authoritarian axis
corresponds to the specific political subdimension of left and right outlined above.
Those on the opposite authoritarian pole favor hierarchical, “stratified ordering,” are
fearful of societal change (1994: 10), and “invoke social hierarchy” (Kitschelt et al. 1999:
67). In his excellent recent book on Eastern Europe, Kitschelt (1999) himself admits that
his social libertarian-authoritarian axis corresponds precisely to the second dimension of
the left-right scale (1999: 7374).
Moreover, Kitschelt’s libertarians’ “preferences for
social reciprocity and individual creativeness over monetary earnings” (1994: 16) and
their valuing of “creative self-fulfillment, self-determination, and participatory decision-
making” (1994: 17) make them strikingly similar, if not entirely identical, to Inglehart’s
post-materialists. Inglehart (1990) was perhaps initially more upfront in acknowledging
that his post-materialism category is tilted toward the left; his main question was
therefore whether parties on the left will adapt to this “cultural shift” in public opinion, or
whether it is new parties such as the Greens that will do so.
The political space I propose, in contrast, is defined by two dimensions that are
fully orthogonal, both in theory and in practice. In other words, it is no more theoretically
“improbable” or contradictory for politicians to be located in some quadrants than in
others; all are equally real political possibilities (though some may predominate in a
particular place or at particular times). And indeed, in Argentina, political actors have
settled the entire two-dimensional political space. Furthermore, this specific space is
Ostiguy 19
defined by axes both of which result from different ways of translating a single domain,
i.e., societal inequality, in politics. It thus multiplies the strategies of possible political
appeal because it allows for equally possible ways of translating similar social contrasts
into politics and thus of appealing to similarly situated voters. Each of these ways is then
equally combinable with any position on the orthogonal dimension.
Possible Misconceptions
One must dispel four fundamental broad misconceptions about the present framework.
Such misconceptions are all too frequent and should be discarded at the outset.
A political space. First, and by far foremost, what I am introducing here is a political
space, not a social one. The high and the low are not the rich people versus the poor
people, the working class versus the bourgeoisie, the educated versus the uneducated, or
“those above” in contrast to “those below” socially or in terms of social stratification. All
of the above are social actors or characteristics. There may certainly be very interesting
statistical relations and political effects between high and low in politics and any of these
social categories, but these remain to be determined empirically. A different way to make
a very similar point is that there are various ways in which social cleavages may be
translated into the political arena and party system. Left and right is one of them, high
and low is another, and these two possibilities do not exhaust the whole gamut.
What I am interested in are political appeals. Now, these appeals may most
certainly be directed at particular social classes. Appeals, however, may or may not prove
effective electorally or politically. Taking the familiar US political arena, Ross Perot, for
example, is to the low of Gore or Walter Mondale; but this does not mean that he is
poorer than either of them, on the contrary. In Argentina, Menem is to the low of Raúl
Alfonsín or the socialist Alfredo Bravo; this does not mean that he is poorer than they,
much on the contrary. Similarly, certainly not all low income people are (or have
preferences) on the low, as clearly illustrated by the case of graduate students in the
humanities. Nor, certainly, may all rich people be assumed to be on the high, as in the
possible case of (to take a quite random illustration) a crass, self-made successful
businessman specializing in the distribution of pork chops. In fact, assumptions on this
20 Ostiguy
front can only be regarded as plausible hypotheses until there is empirical observation,
whether of a direct experiential, qualitative indirect, or quantitative type. High and low,
in short, are political appeals, and perhaps even identities, but not social classes or social
Political appeals, the notion of “rationality,” and political identities. The political space
I am interested in is thus a political space of appeals. Economic policy programs are one
possible type of electoral appeal, and are clearly and effectively used as political appeals.
It would make little sense to consider economic policy orientation as not being an appeal,
somehow strangely reserving that term for the cultural realm! There are many ways to
appeal to voters. Promising to privatize the telephone company or to raise wages are
examples of one sort of appeals. Other sorts are equally possible. One subdimension of
the left-right scale, as we saw, is precisely about appeals through public measures that are
perceived as having differential socioeconomic effects. It is, however, unfortunate that a
minority of rational choice theorists have, contrary to other rational choice theorists’
definition of self-interest as being “subjectively determined by the voter” (Enelow and
Hinich 1984: 3), imputed to actors intentions and beliefs that are limited a priori (and
somewhat “metaphysically”) because they seem plausible (or logical) to the author. For
example, at times voters are assumed to narrowly seek to maximize economic or personal
monetary gain.
Amartya Sen, quoting Albert Hirschman, has written that such a
conception “involves taking, inter alia, a very restricted view of the motives and passions
of human beings” (1986: 344), and not a very worldly one. Jon Elster, a founder of
rational choice theory, has also criticized the use of rational choice theory by several
comparativists, who assume actors are “motivated by their material interest” (2000: 692).
Moreover, he underscores that “even when expanded to include broader goals, rational
choice theory is often inadequate because people may not conform to the canons of
[maximizing] instrumental rationality” (692). In line with spatial rational choice analysis,
but contrary to rational choice institutionalism, it does not seem possible to accept a
functionalist derivation of preferences, i.e., of “the content of self-interest from the
incentives and constraints set by the established context” (Weyland 2002: 59).
But the
theory of rational choice associated with spatial analysis may be promising for the type of
Ostiguy 21
analysis presented here, with the proviso that one make explicit that preference structures
are not linked only to issues, narrowly defined. A “rational choice” in voting, as spatial
analysis argues, has more to do with the logic of proximity, or closeness, than with the
kind of hyper-rationalist thinking and reasoning associated with, for instance, “nested
games of backward induction, complete with discounting over an infinite horizon” (Elster
2000: 692).
It is well known amongst scholars of political behavior that identities, including
party identities, play a large role in electoral behavior. The Michigan school has indeed
been largely predominant in the field during several decades, even if it unfortunately
focused on socialization as the main causal mechanism of political identity formation.
We certainly emphasize theincreasingly unacknowledgedimportance of expressive
behavior, in line with Weber’s four types of social action, which in addition often also
has a normative component, at the time of casting one’s vote. Expressive identity voting
is coupled in normal times with a certain instrumental logic, but I remain skeptical that
(at the micro level) the type of utility calculations being made by developing countries’
lower-sector voters are amenable to complex, reliable, and precise mathematical
Political appeals and political identities are clearly different concepts. Political
identities, furthermore, are sometimes reduced, particularly in the study of US political
behavior, to party ID, such as “being Democrat.” But a political identity may be that of
being a leftist (as in “I am a leftist”), of a nationalist cause (“I am a ___ nationalist”), or
even of a politicized religion. Identities can of course be combined. Identity and “self,”
psychologically, are very much intertwined. Indeed an identity defines a self, usually in
relation to other people, groups, or identities. Second, identities involve a temporal
dimension of endurance. It is much easier to “adopt” or “drop” an opinion than it is to
acquire or lose an identity.
Competing politicians make political appeals to a public, along many possible
Asindividualactions reaching others, appeals also involve a much
briefer duration in time than political identities and cleavages, although appeals can be
repeated (and thus “sustained”) over time. Appeals may reinforce an identity or may
22 Ostiguy
undercut it. The notion of “priming,” in political behavior, constitutes a very significant
development in that regard (Johnston, Blais, Brady, Crete 1992). For these two reasons,
political identities, including party IDs, are usually linked to an established political
cleavage. This cleavage may, moreover, structure the party system as a whole. In fact, the
crystallization of a political cleavage involves, by definition, the creation of political
identities on each side of the divide. Political appeals may be made along that cleavage in
order to reinforce it, to appeal to loyal voters, or to provide electoral cues, but they may
also be made orthogonally, precisely in order to dilute a pattern and/or to win votes from
the other camp.
Political regimes and “democratic-ness.” The two-dimensional political space I am
introducing has little to do with political regimes, although it generally reveals itself in
electoral politics (as the logic of guns is quite a different one). More importantly, it has
little to do with assessing actors as more or less democratic. Certainly, in Argentina anti-
Peronists on the high have been highly antidemocratic in the past. There is a lot of truth
in Argentina to the Peronist account that most interruptions of democratic (and even of
semi-democratic) rule were triggered by right-wing anti-Peronist sectors. Guillermo
O’Donnell (1979a) has highlighted the consequences of the ban on Peronism for the
electoral game and democracy. On the other hand, the Peronists themselves have not
been overly liberal-democratic historically either. The character of the state under Perón
was quite authoritarian (which, it should be emphasized, is not synonymous with
antidemocratic) and partisan, and actors such as López Rega, Herminio Iglesias, the
Montonero guerrillas, and even Menem have often shown little regard for division of
powers and constitutional limits. In a similar vein, it seems that one could engage in an
endless debate as to which side in Venezuela nowadays is less (or more) democratic: the
anti-Chavista “democratic forces” who marched to La Carlota and appealed to the armed
forces to oust the elected leader, or the not too procedural Chavistas supported by the
popular sectors. In short, high and low, just like left and right, are not about democracy or
“democratic-ness.” However, as with left and right, the effect of political dynamics
involving high-low polarization often does have a very real impact on democracy.
Ostiguy 23
The difficult normative neutrality. Finally, an important challenge analytically is to be as
normatively neutral as possible in the description of the two political categories, even
though, just as for left and right, one may have a personal preference for one or the other.
In the literature on political behavior, axes orthogonal to the left-right scale have often
been normatively biased in a quite heavy-handed way (e.g., in Kitschelt or Inglehart),
praising one pole and by extension the voters who also prefer that particular pole. Also,
and at times explicitly, the “other” axis has often not been orthogonal, or neutral, with
regard to the left-right dimension. To be clear, the low is not necessarily “bad,” as it is
often quite “fun,” warm, and exciting, although it is scary or appalling for many
intellectuals, and the high is not necessarily “good,” as it can be perceived as cold and
uncaring, if not simply boring. In the same vein, practices of clientelism are possible on
both sides, although it seems that in the general public discourse and popular perception
they are more commonly associated with the low.
The above definition of the low in politics in fact constitutes a particularly solid,
intuitive, minimal, andsomething now rarenot overly polemical definition of
populism. The low is, at the very least, an essential and noncontroversial defining feature
of populism. To the extent that cleavages involve antagonisms, the low therefore also
involves antagonism. I suggest that populism as a concept can in fact be condensed into
our definition and description of the low presented above, and that the high synthesizes
what anti-populism is about.
The understanding of populism as lowsomething additionally quite intuitive
is an attractive advantage in light of the difficulties surrounding the definition of
More importantly, what I have called (accurately or not) the “political-
cultural” component of high and low, described above, fully incorporates the lack of
institutionalization (more on this below) so dear to most political scientists in defining
populism (e.g., Weyland 2001). But here, at the very same time, high and low can
legitimately be understood as political styles, the rival approach convincingly used to
define populism (e.g., De la Torre 1992 and 2000; Knight 1998). And indeed, populist
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appeals are generally made on the low. The “low” more readily brings to mind, as well,
its opposite: the historically important notion of anti-populism, which has never really
been studied or thematized as such.
While the above definition and characterization of the low in politics cannot
pretend to encompass every possible single observable trait of “populism” nor, still less,
provide a theory of populism, it does appear to cover all cases usually considered populist
in political science and to exclude those not considered populist. The present definition is
thus somewhat narrow in intention (nothing is said about economic policies, for example,
and little about organization) but is specific in its extension.
The present two-dimensional space also has advantages. First, it explicitly
identifies the political opposite of populism. More importantly, it underscores the formal
neutrality, or conceptual “perpendicularity,” of the populist/anti-populist axis relative to
the much-used left-right scale in politics. Making this neutrality explicit is particularly
important: often political scientists have regarded populism as implicitly left-of-center,
since it is said to redistribute income in favor of the popular sectors, oppose orthodox
economic policies, and, in Latin America, allied historically with labor unions. Equally
often, in other settings, populism is thought “obviously” to be on the right, since it
demagogically bypasses the deliberative institutions of liberal democracies, creating a
somewhat authoritarian and plebiscitarian relationship between the leader and his
followers. The antagonism of populism to liberalism has furthermore been consensually
recognized, from Urbinati’s forceful piece (1998) favoring liberalism, to Laclau (1977),
favoring populism, including Coppedge’s in-between sharp description of the theoretical
trade-off (2003). While the first understanding has been prevalent in the study of 1930s-
to-1970s Latin America, the second has been dominant in Europe and has also reentered
Latin American politics with the debate on neo-populism and the neo-populist politicians,
as well as with the increasing concern of the discipline with institutional issues and its
move away from socioeconomic dynamics.
We do know intuitively that there are both unquestionably right-wing populists
(George Wallace in the US, Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Carlos Menem in the
Argentina of the 1990s, Maurice Duplessis in Québec) and left-wing populists (Lionel
Brizola, João Goulart, Hugo Chávez). Unlike the definition of populism that focuses on
Ostiguy 25
economic policy, my conceptualization of populism as the low in politics (in both of its
subdimensions) does allow precisely for the existence of a populist left and a populist
right. Since there is no reason to limit this statement to the low, it also underscores the
existence of a high-right (conservative, proper, polished, and favorable to existing
differential entitlements) and a high-left (refined Marxist intellectuals, “serious” socialists
of the Lionel Jospin or Ricardo Lagos type, educated “liberals,” and many practitioners
of the social sciences and humanities) sector. The high-right has been the historical
enemy of populism in countries such as Argentina and Brazil (with the high-left
equidistant from each position), while the high-left has been the main enemy of populism
in Europe (with the high-right equidistant from both positions). The four quadrants
shown in Figure 2 thus logically come to the fore.
A final advantage of the low-high terminology over the use of the category of
“populism” (for the low) is that it allows for a quantifiable scale, just like that used for
the left-right axis. It would be foolish to describe George W. Bush as populist; however,
Bush positioning (or being) himself significantly to the low of the very high Gore
arguably played a role in Bush’s marginal victory in 2000, especially with floating voters.
The same may perhaps be said about Joaquín Lavín, clearly not a populist, and Ricardo
Lagos, quite on the high (left), a few months before. This does not in any way imply that
the US or Chilean party system is structured along the high-low axis, quite the contrary in
fact, or that populism is an important phenomenon in these contemporary societies, as it
is not. But high-low positioning may play an electoral role with uncommitted voters.
Furthermore, we need a vocabulary to describe politicians like Fernando De la Rúa,
Arturo Illia, or Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, one that names what they have in common and
what starkly differentiated them from their lower political adversaries. Finally, we need
terms that do not have any temporal or historical connotations attached to them, as
populism still (correctly or not) has, insofar as it is sometimes treated either as a political
phenomenon associated with a phase of import substitution industrialization or as a
transitional moment between tradition and modernity.
A “strictly political” understanding of populism should not be equated with a
narrow institutionalist understanding of the political, as is perhaps too often the case.
Certainly, a consensus has arisen within political science that populism should not be
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understood either in terms of expansionary and redistributive economic policies (e.g.,
Dornbusch 1991) or sociologically in terms of a particular class alliance or coalition, as
originally stated in Di Tella (1965a). But politics is more than just institutions. As stated
above, the dichotomy between the personalist authority of a strong (often male) leader
and the institutionally mediated, more procedural, and comparatively more impersonal
authority of the high fully encompasses the institutionalists’ concerns. Populism as “non-
institutionalization” or “non-mediated” authority, however, remains a definition by the
negative. Usually, it is preferable to define by the positive. Taking here as our starting
point Weyland’s article aimed at clarifying the concept of populism by anchoring it in the
political domain, we have “a direct, unmediated contact to a largely unorganized mass of
followers” (2001: 5), where “an individual leader seeks or exercises governmental power
based on the support from a large number of followers” (12). But what is meant by this
“direct”? Can it be given some content or substance? How is it achieved? It seems to me
that to dwell on the content of this directness irremediably forces us in the direction of
political style, or at least political communication. To state it in a more forceful way, the
process of political mobilization that bypasses institutionalized forms of mediation
is embedded within the political style of populism.
In other words, the “power
capability” of numbers is activated as a “political strategy” through political style.
Political appeals on the low are indeed a political strategy, “a method and instrument of
winning and exercising power” (12). For a leader with such power capabilities,
domination is not necessarily fickle, as seen in the case of Chávez already more than ten
years after his initial electoral victory. In fact, political success may lead to the exact
opposite of institutionalization, as it increases the unchallenged dominance of the leader
over all forms of organization and bureaucratic formal institutions. Focusing only on the
institutional aspect furthermore risks missing what after all constitutes a central, if not the
central, appeal of populism. A tight and fair working definition of populism must thus
involve both the political-cultural and the social-cultural components described above.
Without those specialand often colorfulappeals described, there is in fact no
populism to speak of.
The exclusively institutionalist and/or organizational approach has led to a
remarkable and major paradox, whether one examines neo-populism or classical
Ostiguy 27
populism in Latin America. As we saw, Weyland’s definition of populism (2001:14)
convincingly emphasizes lack of organizational mediation and lack of constraints on the
populist leader. On the other hand, Collier and Collier (1991), examining what most
scholars would call the various “classical populist” experiences of Latin America (Juan
Perón, Lázaro Cardenas, Rómulo Betancourt, the Peruvian APRA,
etc.), differentiate
populist from non-populist types of initial incorporation of labor by the key criterion of
“union linkage to a party or a movement” (1991: 167, also 163, 165), that is, an
eminently organizational and institutional variable (see for example their central Figure
5.2, in 1991: 166167). But here, the more organized and the more institutionalized this
linkage, the more populist the type of incorporation is. In support of their view, one can
state confidently that, for example, organizing the masses was probably by far Perón’s
main political project in the 1940s and 1950s.
Certainly, classical populism is
associated with the formation of the largest, and therefore presumably most organized,
mass parties of Latin American politics: the Partido Revolucionario Institucional
(Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI), the Partido Justicialista (Justicialist Party, or
PJ), Acción Democrática (Democratic Action, or AD) for forty years, Alianza Popular
Revolucionaria Americana (American Popular Revolutionary Alliance, or APRA) for
almost a century, etc. To thus simplify, from an institutionalist, organizational standpoint,
one has populism as a noticeable lack of organization and as hyper-organization. An
institutionalist perspective is thus not overly helpful for resolving this conundrum. To me,
there is no contradiction in having personalized rule by an individual leader with highly
effective mass organizationthat is, after all, what fascism was all about, to name a
prominent case. Within the institutionalist paradigm, this riddle was arguably solved in a
similar (and more refined) way by Levitsky’s idea
of “parties with low routinization
and strong mass organization” (legend of Figure 1.1 in 2003: 23), under-institutionalized
party organization, nonroutinized intra-party rules of the game, and informal mass
linkages (1998b: 451), “informal organization” (1998a: 86) or “informal mass parties”
(2003: 59) or, to summarize in my own words, parties with strong organization (and mass
linkages) but weak institutionalization, understood as routinizationconceptualizations
inspired by, and particularly applicable to, the paradigmatic populist case of Peronism.
28 Ostiguy
While clientelism is often used to explain what makes this non-institutionalized,
but organized, domination “by an individual” or a few individuals at the top not only
possible but appealing, it cannot explain the rise of populist leaders prior to their taking
over the command of the state or a state (e.g., Chávez in the 1990s). The well-known but
empirically understudied Weberian concept of “charisma” (here taken outside of its
religious redemptive context) is the other common alternative variable often used to
explain their attractiveness.
To me, it is actually essential to study appeals (whatever
these appeals may be in practice) and reception, to empirically explain such leaders’
Whether left or right, populism always involves the expression and manifestation
of popular ways in politics, a strong personalist leader, and a certain procedural
“relativism” (within the organization). On the social-cultural front specifically, populism
is thus a type of political appeal that resorts for power purposes to established and
concrete local forms of the culturally popular (including also socially differentiated
desiresexpressed in tastes).
How generalizable is the high-low framework? The high and low dimension is present in
the politics of numerous countries. The fact that one can recognize such a dimension in
many settings does not mean, however, that most party systems are structured along a
high-low divide. In fact, I would argue that this is not the case. There are, however, a
variety of countries, including in Latin America, where the high-low divide plays a
crucial role in the structuring of political conflict and/or political competition at the level
of the party system. The fact that such polities may be a minority does not detract from
the dimension’s great relevance; on the contrary, it may enhance it. Indeed, it helps to
circumscribe the universe of study, in much the same way as did discussions surrounding
the concept of bureaucratic-authoritarian regime; that is, it avoids a dilution of the
concept that, as with all cases of dilution, could risk making the concept banal.
There are differing levels of importance at which the high-low axis can come into
play in the study of electoral and party politics. At the highest and most relevant level, the
Ostiguy 29
high-low axis is the main dimension defining the political cleavage of a given country. In
Latin America, I would argue that this has been the case in Argentina for decades, and
that it is now largely the situation in Venezuela since the emergence of Chávez and the
anti-Chavista opposition. Even in such cases, this does not mean that the left-right
dimension is irrelevant, as seen above and illustrated in Figure 2 (e.g., the Chávez
government is clearly on the left). There is also the instance where high-low differences
play a key role in a given election, but do not play a structuring role in a given party
system for the simple reason that there is no party system in that polity, due to high
electoral volatility and little continuity of political actors. This arguably has been the
situation in Ecuador and, less clearly so, in the Peru of 1995. Second and at a less
prominent level, high-low differences may play an important role in intraparty
competition, that is, in differentiating factions vying for power within a political party. It
seems to me that an important, but not exclusive, aspect of political differentiation within
the PRI in Mexico during the 1980s and 1990s was along the high-low dimension, with
the so-called dinosaurs on the low-center
and many of the technocrats and/or
democratizers on the high, with some left-right differences among the latter.
In the least important way, high-low differences may be present among political
candidates, but without playing a structuring role in politics, where political conflict
occurs along some other dimension, whether right-left or other. In these instances, such
high-low differences may make for enjoyable journalistic commentary, but they are not
central in the party system or at the intraparty level. These differences may nonetheless
have an electoral effect at the margins, especially among undecided voters and/or voters
with no established political preferences or identities.
In the remainder of this paper, I shall briefly make use of the high-low dimension
to explain the politics, and more precisely the structure of the political arena, of three
Latin American countries.
Argentina. The use of high and low to describe Argentina’s main political cleavage and
explain Argentina’s ever-changing party system forms the topic of an elaborate Kellogg
Working Paper that should be read in conjunction with the present paper.
30 Ostiguy
conceptual categories of high and low in fact emerged genetically from the close study of
Argentine politics over the years.
Let it be said that the main political cleavage that structures and defines the
Argentine party systems is that between Peronism and the political forces opposing
Peronism-in-power, i.e., anti-Peronism. While particular institutional parties and political
fronts have come and gone over the last sixty years in Argentina, that particular cleavage
has, in contrast, proven remarkably resilient. In fact, it may be one of the few stable
features of Argentine politics over the years. The importance of the Peronist/anti-Peronist
cleavage does not mean, quite on the contrary, that the left-right axis is irrelevant in
Argentina. In fact, the left-right dimension is essential, but not sufficient, for
understanding Argentina’s politics. What is particularly striking in Argentina is the fact
that the Peronist/non-Peronist cleavage has over the years proven to be quite
perpendicular to the left-right axis. That is, there is clearly a Peronist right, a Peronist
center, and a Peronist left, including all shades and nuances along that spectrum.
Similarly, one finds anti-Peronist socialist forces on the left; anti-Peronist center, center-
left, and center-right Radicales and “Radical offspring”; and—historicallya quite
vehement anti-Peronist right.
Consequently, I argue that the dynamic Argentine party system is structured in a
remarkably stable way as a double political spectrum (see Figure 3). Such is, in fact, the
argument historically developed and analytically demonstrated in the companion working
paper “Argentina’s Double Political Spectrum: Party System, Political Identities, and
Strategies, 1944–2003“ (Ostiguy: 2009), an account of Argentine politics.
The Argentine Political Space:
A Double Political Spectrum
Figure 3
31 Ostiguy
32 Ostiguy
In spite of its resilience, however, this cleavage between Peronism and anti-
Peronism has been notoriously difficult to characterize politically, including
ideologically. Even more so, while intensely felt nationally in Argentina, the cleavage has
proven difficult to categorize in analytic terms that would display comparative validity
and conceptual traction. And while historical narratives are certainly essential for
providing contextual richness and local meaning, comparativists need categories that can
be usefully and validly applied with a minimum of violence across cases. In that light, I
argue that Peronism over time is best described as politically on the “low” and that anti-
Peronism has presented itself as being politically on the “high” (Ostiguy 2009).
The high-low dimension in fact has a long history in Argentine politics. Not
coincidentally, the major political cleavage and political-military conflict during most of
Argentina’s 19th century was drastically framed and labeled by one of modern
Argentina’s founding fathers—Domingo Sarmiento, himself a vehement advocate of the
high—as one between “civilization and barbarism.” In this radical cultural dichotomy,
the Federal caudillos and gauchos of the hinterland were labeled, characterized, and
defined by Sarmiento in his most famous book (1974 [1868]) as “barbarians”—a social
reality that had to be overcome through the political agency of the offspring of the
Unitarians (Unitarios) by bringing civilization.
Certainly, this divide had already been
resolved (by force) by 1880, but in the 1940s opponents of Perón forcefully brought it
back to life. It should be emphasized that the Federal/Unitarian divide was political,
aesthetic (in terms of style), and, in the sense alluded to above, “cultural” (at least in
terms of political project).
Many Peronists, ever since the late 1960s, have incidentally
also claimed the exact same “continuity,” vindicating figures such as Juan Manuel de
Rosas, Facundo Quiroga, and Ángel “Chacho” Penaloza, in antagonistic relation to the
“ungrounded,” culturally “snobbish,” and Eurocentric Unitarians.
As just stated, both Peronism and the various anti-Peronist forces have fully
ranged across the left-right spectrum. Even in its inception, the electoral coalition of
parties that brought Perón to power in 1946 included the newly formed left-of-center
Labor Party and right-wing, pro-Axis nationalists. The forces that then opposed Perón,
calling themselves the Democratic Union, ranged from Communists and Socialists on the
left, to Radicales in the center, to conservative business sectors on the right. In the 1970s,
Ostiguy 33
the Peronist right and the Peronist left were waging gunfights against one another.
the post military regimes era, Peronism eventually came under the domination of right-
wing Peronist Carlos Menem, to be later succeeded by his Peronist nemesis on the left,
Nestor Kirchner. Needless to say, an equal political distance characterizes the anti-
Peronist left and right.
Precisely because the Argentine party system is structured as a double political
spectrum, it has been both relatively easy and frequent to have the Peronist party (PJ)
leadership and the main anti-Peronist parties “leapfrog” one another along the left-right
axis, without fundamentally altering the party system. This observation would seem, at
first glance, to contradict the general pattern found in basically all countries of Europe by
the Manifesto Research Group (MRG) of the European Consortium for Political
Research. The MRG found that parties rarely leapfrog each other and that parties shift
their positions only within “ideologically delimited” areas of the policy space (Adams
2001: 122). However, the framework developed in this article makes it plain that
Argentina is no special exception. The very same “positional” logic as that described by
the MRG is at work in Argentina, but along the high-low dimension, which is also the
country’s main political cleavage. Moreover, the frequent leapfrogging of Argentina’s
main political parties past one another on the left-right scale does not appear to alter, nor
to have altered in the least over the last decades, the central political cleavage that
structures party competition and the party system in Argentina.
To a certain extent, this cleavage is largely class based. Empirically, education
level is an even more remarkable statistical predictor of voters’ preferences across this
cleavage than income level.
“Argentina’s Double Political Spectrum” (Ostiguy 2009)
provides ample data on the social composition of the vote over time in Argentina, as well
as qualitative and quantitative data on political preferences and reasons stated for such
preferences. Politically, the paper sheds light on numerous paradoxes. It shows how the
double political spectrum, which certainly involves questions of identities, explains the
electoral viability of the 1990s neoliberal Menem government as well as the nature of the
political opposition that it created, with the evolving spatial positions of the Frente
Grande (Broad Front), Frente País Solidario (Front for a Country in Solidarity, or
FREPASO), and Alianza (Alliance). It delineates the configuration of the new party
34 Ostiguy
systems in Argentina since the collapse of late 2001, and it even accounts for the current
inability of the anti-Peronist left and center and of the Peronist right-of-center to form a
joint coalition in their common antagonism to Kirchnerism on the Peronist left.
Venezuela. Since 1998, the Venezuelan political arena has been conspicuously and
notoriously structured by asocial, political, and culturalcleavage between Chavismo,
on the political “low-left,” and anti-Chavismo, claiming to be on the political “high.” In
contemporary 21st-century Latin American politics, one would be hard-pressed to find a
more emblematic figure of a successful leader on the political “low” than Hugo Chávez.
There is one key difference with the political space of Argentina, however. In Venezuela,
Chávez is also very clearly located on the left, while correspondingly the center of
gravity of anti-Chavismo is, although perhaps less clearly so, right of center. There is
thus no double political spectrum in Venezuela. In contrast, the two-dimensional space in
Venezuela is arguably largely made up, very roughly, of a single spectrum ranging from
the Chavista low-left to the demographic bulk of the anti-Chavistas, on the high-right
although clearly anti-Chavismo does range from left to right. In other words, a low right
within Chavismo is absent in Venezuela, in contrast to Argentina.
Chávez embodies to a maximal extent the two subdimensions of the “low” in
politics. He is maximally on the “coarse, uninhibited, culturally popular” pole (Figure 1),
and he is at the same time an extreme manifestation of the personal authority of a strong
male leader, with “balls.” To watch Chávez in public is either a pure enjoyment or a
source of aversion, depending on the viewer. Hugo Chávez sings in his speeches,
coarsely insults his opponents, remembers the feats of his llanero (cowboy from the
plains) great-grandfather “Maisanta,” salutes the crowds, evokes vivid images, and sings
again, all dressed in not-exactly subtle red. The opposition is appalled, despairs, and, just
like the anti-Peronists of the 1940s, intermittently shows signs of hysteria.
Obviously, both the right in the US and the left-wing partisans of Chávez are
misleading in overly associating Hugo Chávez with Castrismo (Castro communism) in
Cuba. There are no meaningful, polarized, competitive elections in Cuba, while this is
certainly not the case in Venezuela, which, in contrastand in a rather typical populist
fashionhas a mania for closely spaced electoral contests. The number of elections,
Ostiguy 35
referenda, and popular consultations in Venezuela since late 1998 has indeed been quite
extraordinary. The country is in fact in almost constant electoral battle. A much more
accurate comparison is with historical Peronism, with its large and recurrent rallies for
electoral (and power) purposes in the plaza, its lack of institutionalization, its not exactly
precise ideological project, its anti-imperialism, etc. Undoubtedly, both Chavismo and
Peronism are populist and, more specifically (and conceptually less controversially),
“low”—with Chávez, however, being more unambiguously on the left than Perón.
Within the low, the traits that probably set Perón and Chávez apart most
conspicuously from other political leaders with popular-sector support are their
pronounced behavior and mode of communication on the sociocultural low. In
Venezuela, the radio program “Hello President,” where callers phone the president and he
talks to them with expressions of affection, words of love for the women who call,
reminders to rural folks to “tie up the donkey,” and so forth, partakes of the same cultural
revolution which Perón accomplished four decades before by taking his coat off, using
folksy language, etc. Such successful appeals on the low and the identification of the
popular sectors with “their” leader led to a drastic restructuring of the party system in
Argentina and will eventually do likewise in Venezuela, where the old party system has
now collapsed and where anti-Chavismo is as strong as anti-Peronism was in Argentina
in the early 1950s, although less well-organized. In both instances, the largely middle-
sector political opposition discursively stresses democracy, civil society, and proper
procedures (i.e., the other subdimension of the high) in their political attacks,
Chávez and Perón use the language of identification with the pueblo (the people) and the
patria (motherland), claiming a close, direct, personal, and even affectionate bond
between themselves and the popular sectors.
In practice, it should be emphasized that much of the opposition to Perón and
Chávez, especially among the educated middle sectors, is not mainly a reaction to left-
wing economic policies, but rather to the combination of seeing the government in the
hands of “undereducated” and “unqualified” men and the so-called “farcical,”
“grotesque” image that the leader and his rhetoric (i.e., the cognitively dominant, social-
cultural dimension of the high-low axis) are seen as projecting abroad. The image is
vastly at odds with the political opposition’s (educated middle-class) self-image as
36 Ostiguy
proper, “European” (in the case of Argentina) or basically similar to US middle-class
ways (Venezuela).
Colorful, but non-leftist, invectives on the part of such leaders on the
low, such as “squealing pigs,” vis-à-vis those who oppose them, drastically antagonize
the “decente (“respectable”) middle sectors but reinforce identification among the
popular sectors.
While Weber (1978: 246254, 11211133) predicts a routinization of charisma,
which, for the two cases examined here, would entail a withering of socio-cultural and
political-cultural traits on the low in favor of institutionalization, such was not was the
case in Argentina with Peronism. If, as I originally wrote in 2002,
Venezuela continues
on the same path (and it has), this will not be the case in Venezuela either. What becomes
institutionalized, or routinized, is instead a certain set of performances on the low. Such a
pattern has many advantages: performances on the low nourish certain bonds, while
“institutionally” acting on the low has the adaptive advantages that Levitsky and his
collaborators (Levitsky 1998; Levitsky 2003: 2527, 7581, 8487, 3, 1314, 2022;
Burgess and Levitsky 2003; Helmke and Levitsky 2004; Freidenberg and Levitsky 2006)
have highlighted. What does become institutionalized over time in the conventional
sense, however, is precisely the political divide.
This routinization of performances, rather than institutions, has led to a rich
debate amongst political theorists and comparativists, with regard to the relationship of
populism and liberal democracy. Some scholars have forecast the gradual transformation
of the populist leader into an authoritarian leader, with the erosion of constitutional
guarantees, checks and balances, division of powers, and other defining features of
liberalism restraining the state.
Other scholars have, in contrast, highlighted the danger
of class-based authoritarian reactions that populism often triggers.
Certainly, there is a
difficulty in “getting rid” of populist leaders, considering their effective appeals,
mobilizational abilities, close and demonstrated identification with “the people,” lack of
interest in alternation in power, and preference for constitutional amendments allowing
for repeated or indefinite reelections. Not surprisingly, populist leaders are thus
vulnerable to losing power through a coup on the high-right or high-center. Perón was
first almost deposed in October 1945 by the “democratizing” faction of the armed forces,
which wanted to hand power to the Supreme Court and civilian authority, and he was
Ostiguy 37
saved in extremis by an impromptu huge demonstration by the popular sectors in favor of
“their” colonel. In April 2002, Chávez was also briefly deposed by a fraction of the
military, which wanted to hand over power to conservative civilian representatives, but
he was also saved in extremis by violent spontaneous protests from his lower-sector
supporters. Perón was taken out of power by an anti-populist military coup in 1955, after
ten years of concentration of power and intense antagonisms.
Perhaps of greater interests to political scientists is the search for causes leading
to the creation and structuring of political cleavages (and political spaces) along the high-
low dimension. In terms of immediate causation, here again the cases of Venezuela and
Argentina show a similar pattern. In the Argentina of 193043 and in the Venezuela of
the 1990s, the party system had lost all representative legitimacy and was seen as
controlled from above and also as restrictive of alternative majority expressions. The so-
called partidocracia (“party-cracy”) that eventually developed from the pact of Punto
Fijo in Venezuela and the Concordancia of Argentina shared striking similarities. In both
instances, it became clear that the party system was “closed,” with collusion between the
main parties, a sharing of the spoils, and a wide gap between what electoral competition
is meant to entail and actual practices of “representation.” Such a situation, whether a
product of “patriotic fraud” and of a concordancia
like in Argentina, or the
partidocracia between AD and COPEI
in Venezuela, created a legitimacy crisis,
compounded by the effects of a severe economic downturn, both in 1930s Argentina and
in 1990s Venezuela. The party system of Venezuela in the 1990s, like that of Argentina
in the 1930s, thus faced a severe legitimacy and effectiveness crisis. Note that in each
case, the preceding political situation was not that of authoritarianism or military rule, but
of representative failure of the existing arrangements in a clearly somewhat exclusionary
(and pacted) party system.
In terms of historical genesis, in both cases a nationalist colonel was involved in a
military coup to overhaul the party system and the mechanisms of representation. In
1992, Hugo Chávez failed in his coup attempt, while Perón, as part of the Grupo de
Oficiales Unidos (United Officers Group, or GOU), succeeded in 1943. Both leaders
became immensely popular among the popular sector electorate and triggered hatred
38 Ostiguy
from the middle sectors, not mainly because of their economic policies but because they
positioned themselves very much on the low socioculturally and political-culturally. In
both instances, the older political parties and newer groups from civil society united in
opposition to the “demagogue,” forming a broad (formal or informal) left-right front
under the banner of “democracy” in its liberal democratic form. Chávez and Perón both
counterattacked by colorfully maligning the “oligarchy”—as the “squalid ones,” in
Venezuelaand accentuating their low demeanors, vocabulary, and mode of relating to
“the people.” In Argentina, the socialists, communists, and Radicales, all of which had
had a strong presence in the labor movement, adopted a very high position politically,
while their popular-sector electorates gradually shifted toward Perón. In Venezuela, a
similar phenomenon occurred with the country’s trade union umbrella organization
Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (Confederation of Venezuelan Workers, or
CTV) and with AD.
While deeper socio-historical structural explanations should perhaps be sought,
they should be viewed not so much as direct determinants, but instead as (fertile) terrain
positively enabling the emergence of such a high-low dimension, beyond leaders’ sheer
circumstantial strategic abilities and sense of timing. History, as well as “culture,” a
much-maligned term that may be best understood here as a repertoire and itself a
historical product, may indeed come into play. We already saw what could be understood
as the idiosyncratic role of the Federal wars in Argentina during the 19th century, the
historical opposition between the Federal caudillos and the “civilizing” Unitarians, and
how such debates occupied the centerstage of Argentina’s political (and military) life for
almost a century. Venezuela, from its early wars of independence up to the end of the
Federal Wars with Ezequiel Zamora, saw the exact same divide. Historians of Latin
America are all fully familiar with the well-known reputation, feats, and image of the
llaneros in 19th-century Venezuela. In the vast plains of a free-ranging cattle economy,
llaneros and gauchos are equivalent. Simón Bolívar’s project of independence failed
during the second republic because of the fierce, terrible, and “barbaric” llaneros under
José Boves. Bolívar’s project of independence succeeded in the third republic because of
the llaneros and their self-made-man caudillo leader José Páez, who later became
Venezuela’s first president. Even more relevant, the Federal Wars in Venezuela show
Ostiguy 39
sociocultural similarities to those of Argentina, in terms of the nature of the two sides in
each case. Political scientists often ignore that one of Chávez’ main historical reference
points is indeed Ezequiel Zamora, the caudillo with little formal schooling who violently
challenged the coastal oligarchy. Not surprisingly, Hugo Chávez named his key electoral
battle to defeat the recall referendum of 2004 (arguably the biggest electoral challenge to
his rule) the battle of Santa Ines, which Zamora won.
In other words, there is a terraina set of usable dichotomies, which have
resonance for the local population (and for the leader) and which are defined largely in
high-low termsthat seems to play a role as a sort of structural precondition or, to use a
different metaphor, as a fertile terrain, for the rise of high-low cleavages in politics.
Interestingly, Ecuador, which certainly lacks these 19th-century precedents, also very
clearly has such structural preconditions, in its very well known sociocultural discursive
opposition between its coast, arguably the most fertile terrain for populism in all of Latin
America, and its sierra.
Ecuador. Abdalá Bucaram, who briefly was President of Ecuador in 199697 thanks to
his base in Guayaquil, the center of gravity of coastal Ecuador, probably holds the
continental record for politician most on the low in all of Latin America. Bucaram,
however, is not unique as a politician located on the low there. Coastal Ecuador in fact
has a long populist tradition: from the Concentración de Fuerzas Populares
(Concentration of Popular Forces, or CFP), to Jaime Roldós Aguilera, to the Partido
Roldosista Ecuatoriano (Ecuadorian Roldosista Party, or PRE), to Bucaram (uncle and
nephew), to Álvaro Noboa, up to the contemporary and milder Rafael Correa.
coastal style of politics in Ecuador contrasts with the more “restrained” style of the sierra,
whether on the left, as with the Izquierda Demócratica (Democratic Left, or ID)
politicians, or on the right, as with Jamil Mahuad. These are to a certain extent
stereotypes, but these regional stereotypes have an element of truth and do in fact inform
the discursive political scene of Ecuador.
The presence of the low in Ecuadorian politics has been extremely well
documented in the work of Carlos de la Torre. On Abdalá Bucaram, De la Torre quotes
him as stating in an interview that Rodrigo Borja Cevallos, the leader of Izquierda
40 Ostiguy
Democrática, had “watery sperm” and was a “lukewarm man”; that with regard to his
coastal rival, León Febres Cordero, “I have bigger balls than [him]. In other words, I have
balls, Febres Cordero does not” (1997: 16). He once even stated that, “voting for me is
like…throwing excrement at Guayaquil’s elitist Club de la Unión” (17). Almost as if he
had had the present paper in mind, De la Torre himself writes: “[Bucaram] ridicules his
rivals’ delicate manners and tastes, which he contrasts to his own and the common
people’s masculine ones. The representation of the oligarchy as imitators of foreign and
effeminate lifestyles is well received by his audiences” (17). He adds: “those who
consider themselves ‘civilized and cultured’ abhor Abdalá’s words and political style”
(18). Interestingly, Bucaram’s career ended up abruptly when the Congress of Ecuador,
under pressures by the Armed Forces, ended up dismissing him from the Presidency on
charges of “mental inability.”
Ecuador has often been considered a paradigmatic case of a polity without a
structured party system. In his overview of national party systems in Latin America,
Coppedge (1998a: 196–197) characterizes Ecuador as “the most consistently unstable
country in Latin America,” underscoring that “the overwhelming fact of Ecuadorian
politics has been instability and, therefore, political parties have hardly organized.”
is absolutely true. While the party “system” has proven to be very fluid (Mejia Acosta
2002), there have nonetheless been some patterns in Ecuador’s political space of electoral
competition between (ever-changing) parties and candidates.
The Democratic Left (ID)
party was clearly on the high during the 1988 presidential campaign; it is left of the
center and operates mainly in the sierra, especially Quito. The Roldosista Ecuadorian
Party (PRE) is very much on the low; it is also left of center, and it operates mainly on
the coast. In terms of personal demeanor, Rodrigo Borja Cevallos of the ID, president of
Ecuador between 1988 and 1992, was definitely on the high, while former President
Abdalá Bucaram (19961997) of the PRE was singularly low. The 1988 presidential
election, thus, was structured mainly by high-low differences, in terms of both the
political dimension and, literally, altitude.
The political relevance of the high-low political divide, moreover, has not been
limited to presidential elections. Some smaller parties on the low-left such as the
Movimiento Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Movement, or MPD) have
Ostiguy 41
attempted to capture votes in the sierra, occupying a space that the coastal PRE had
attempted to fill. Similarly, on the coast, the Partido Social Cristiano (Social Christian
Party, or PSC) on the right and the PRE on the low have attempted to squeeze each other
out from the low-right corner. Party leaders have thus adapted their electoral strategies
along the high-low axis in order to improve their electoral performance.
In this way,
this spatial situation is a magnification of the phenomenon already described in the case
of Argentina: institutional actors are highly unstable in their organizational existence,
making them poor objects of study from an institutionalist party perspective, but spatial
positions and antagonisms show a discernable and (relatively, in the case of Ecuador)
more stable pattern.
Within Ecuador’s two main regions, class or educational levels are likely to
significantly correlate with voters’ positions on the high-low axis. However, in Ecuador
nationally, it seems that it is sociocultural differences between the more constrained
sierra and the more exuberant coast (which are also part of Ecuadorian lore) that most
self-evidently correlate with high-low political differences in the overall national political
space, especially on the left.
Peru 1995. In the Andean country of Peru for the 1995 elections, Alberto Fujimori’s
main opponent was former United Nations Secretary-General, Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, a
candidate who was uncommonly erudite, cosmopolitan, prudent, lacking in charisma, and
procedural, that is, highly “respectable” in terms of both dimensions of the high. On the
political-cultural front, his campaign was about liberal democracy and the rule of law.
Pérez de Cuéllar also located himself somewhat leftof-center. During the first five years
of his mandate, meanwhile, Fujimori had successfully positioned himself on the lowby
historical Peruvian standardson the political-cultural dimension.
In the elections of
this decade, Lourdes Flores has stood repeatedly on the high-right and, like the two
previous candidates on the high, lost. In Peru the low has arguably become an
increasingly viable and large space in the political arena,
especially as the Marxist-
influenced left has lost its strength.
42 Ostiguy
The paper has introduced the political concepts of high and low in order to characterize
an overall dimension structuring given political cleavages and party systems. High and
low as appeals are also, in addition, an important part of political actors’ political
campaigns and spatial strategies. Just like left and right (or liberal and conservative in the
US), high and low can easily be integrated into the type of methodology prevalent in the
field of political behavior, electoral studies, and campaign analysis. Political preferences
are not limited to issues or even ideologies, nor are they always governed by strict
calculations of material interest, since motivations behind preferences are varied and
identification is an important factor. Following Weber’s sociology of action (1978: 4
26), it should be remembered that social action, like all actions, may be guided by
instrumental rationality, often understood in material terms, by normative concerns (for
example regarding corruption or the importance of loyalty), and by expressive
considerations, particularly when they invoke identities and/or social-cultural
preferences. Since spatial analysis follows a Downsian logic, there is fortunately no
reason why the logic of distance/proximity and of preferences cannot be applied to
questions of identity and of social-cultural and political-cultural preferences. Broadly
understood, the notions of “utility” and of preferences thus have an open-ended realm of
application. The two-dimensional political space introduced in this paper can thus readily
be used as an analytic tool for a spatial analysis of politics, whether structural or
conjunctural, as well as to inform the sociological analysis of the reception of parties and
candidates in society.
Ostiguy 43
For example, if I say that George W. Bush is “to the low of Al Gore,” this does not mean that I
take Bush to be a populist.
I apply in a detailed fashion the concepts introduced in the present article to the analysis of the
case of Argentina’s political space and party system in the companion working paper (Ostiguy
On the relation between “systematized concepts” and indicators in research design, see for
example Adcock and Collier (2001).
As Kruskal and Wish (1978: 12) emphasized regarding MDS, “once the configuration has been
obtained, however, it is usually important to interpret it.” Very few authors have engaged, like
Ronald Inglehart and to a certain extent Herbert Kitschelt, in both theory construction and survey
analysis, which in part explains those authors’ unusual success. Less theoretically driven survey
analysis (or survey analysis which, for lack of resources, must start with given survey questions)
often engages in testing previously stated theoretical propositions regarding social, cultural, or
political change, as well as empirical refinements of cross-national comparisons. Usually, the
concepts used in the analysis are taken from a given repertoire.
Or at least they relate to how the public understands a politician to be and behave.
“Well-mannered” or “well-bred” in demeanor is used here as translation of bien educado in
Spanish or “bien-élevé” in French.
In Argentina, Fernando De la Rúa is a clear case, but one can also think of Walter Mondale in
the US, of Lionel Jospin in contrast to Jacques Chirac in France, or of Georges-Émile Lapalme in
contrast to Maurice Duplessis in Québec.
Heavy local accents and expressive body language are all in a certain way difficult-to-ignore
intrusions of physicality, of the concrete particular body, in the interaction. In contrast, it seems
that on the high the body and all its distracting marks and particularistic presence has been
somewhat evacuated from the discourse, making it in that sense more “clean” (as “simply
words”) and thus—though only seemingly—more “universal.”
Examples of cases on the extreme low include Abdalá Bucaram in Ecuador and Vladimir
Zhirinovsky in Russia. Cases more typical of the low are, in Argentina, Carlos Menem and many
in his entourage (such as Luis Barrionuevo or Armando Gostanian) or, even lower, Herminio
Iglesias. On a narrower scale, skewed significantly toward the high, in the US on the low one
44 Ostiguy
finds the ex-wrestler Jesse Ventura, especially in the late 1990s, and Ross Perot. In electoral
competition, Bill Clinton effectively cast himself lower than Bob Dole. In Canada, Camil
Samson or Réal Caouette (a car dealer) of the Social Credit Party in the 1960s, were very clearly
on the low.
Elias’ interest logically led him to the sociology of excitement and sports (1986), including
soccera topic highly relevant in Argentina in more ways than one, especially for concretely
understanding the powerful conjunction between Peronism and popular culture.
It is important to emphasize that these are claims, repeatedly made in the political arena, rather
than observations of actual behavior along those lines. They are, in other words, types of appeals
and ways of presenting oneself to the public. Of course, to be credible it helps if there is a
relation between those claims and actual practices, or that there at least be no overt contradiction.
This characterization is not to be equated with “authoritarian,” even if politicians on the high
often attempt to make that equation for politically motivated purposes. There have been many
instances of impersonal and highly authoritarian rule, as O’Donnell (1979: 91, 102, 76–85)
emphasized with regard to the bureaucratic-authoritarian regimes. Certainly, to the followers of
those strong personalistic leaders, the latter are not “authoritarian” but rather strong leaders who,
relying on popular electoral support, care for them and can lead the nation.
It would be tempting to say “legal-rational,” but Max Weber’s standards may be too high for
many developing countries and thus, as an ideal type, not that useful for purposes of
“Fairness” is a much-debated category on that dimension. The high claims to be more “fair”
because it claims not to discriminate, to promote equality before the law, and to have the public
administration treat every claim equally. The low claims to be much more fair, socially, even if it
implies a trade-off with at least minimal procedures and non-partisanship. A good local example
is the work and rhetoric of Evita.
Initiated by Guillermo O’Donnell (1994) with his work, first, on lack of horizontal
accountability and delegative democracy and then on the polyarchies that are not of the global
Northwest (1996), a significant debate on the question of accountability in Latin America has
developed in North America among major scholars of Latin American politics, such as Jorge
Dominguez and Susan Stokes. While in O’Donnell (1996) the debate was internal to the category
of democracy, it subsequently came to be about accountability and democracy.
Ostiguy 45
Aldo Rico made this famous statement, now a part of Argentine folklore, in front of television
cameras in January 1988, in the aftermath of the military rebellion of Monte Caseros. Rico had
been a leader of the 1987 military rebellion against the human rights trials of military officers
responsible for the torture and disappearances during the military regime. Under house arrest for
this rebellion, he escaped to the garrison of Monte Caseros, where he led a second military
rebellion against the Alfonsín government. After being defeated by governmental troops, he
made the famous declaration quoted here, not regretting anything, before going back to jail.
Again, the point is not that leaders on the high do not steal, while those on the low do, as there
are several cases that clearly illustrate the contrary. The point is about a certain mode of
presenting and legitimating oneself, a certain type of discourse displayed in the public arena to
gather political support and perhaps a sort of “out-of-place frankness,” as in the case of Luis
Barrionuevo in Argentina.
On the low, electoral success is a clear demonstration and empirical proof of closeness to “the
people,” of their support by the pueblo (people), “their” pueblo. On the high, clean elections with
clear rules and without irregularities are an integral part of what they advocate and claim to stand
for. To make the same point negatively, politicians on the high have often employed
constitutional clauses or enacted legal measures to bar certain political actors or components of
society from the electoral contest, while politicians on the low have often committed certain
“irregularities” during the contest.
Sublimation and suppression of drives are obviously not the same thing. The first was highly
valued by Freud, for example, as the psychological mechanism for “civilization,” including the
production of its most refined artifacts. Suppression is a different story. While I certainly do not
think the low is more “natural” (a somewhat absurd proposition), I do not view it either (at least,
in most of its instances) as a “return of the repressed.”
Independently of political programs or of ideologies, it is the affinities along a high and low
dimension which often make people comfortable socially with one another, for example in
leisure activities (be it a prolonged dinner, a night at the bar, or a weekend spent together).
On this particular point, my analysis is close to that of Weyland (e.g., 2001) on populism and
neo-populism. See below.
46 Ostiguy
Leaders on the low often claim that politicians on the high are hypocritical and, for example,
as corrupt (or improper) if not more so than they are, but that they themselves, at least, do not
make a “big fuss” about the concrete realities of politics or about “crass” taste and practices.
A notable exception is Daniel James (1995). In his writings on 17 October 1945 in Argentina,
for example, James makes the reader understand what was at stake, including within the
“structure of feeling” on the low—particularly on the social-cultural dimension.
This feature is particularly at play in a context of “transnational,” Western or Westernized,
elites who are often trained in Western institutions and have adopted a certain set of common
“master-keys” and modalities. There is often a clear “trickle down” or demonstration effect to
the middle class.
By “localist,” I do not mean local in the sense of local community, the town hall meeting, or
other type of small-scale localities. Localism refers to an emphasis on particularistic traits,
manners, and expressions displayed in public and understood (felt) as an important cultural
element of one's own self-definition. In a sense, they are cultural referents.
See for example Huber and Inglehart (1995) and, for Latin America, Talavera (1995). A major
conceptual and historical work on the categories of left and right, remarkable for its breath and
depth, is that of J.A. Laponce (1981). The more recent bestseller by Bobbio (1996), the
accessibility of which does not detract from its learnedness, is also an excellent summary.
See for example the set of indicators and questions used in the Eurobarometer surveys, which
correspond to those two dimensions of left and right. See also Huber (1989), Knutsen (1989;
1995), Kitschelt and Hellemans (1990), and Inglehart (1990: 258300). It cannot be argued that
this scale is simply a product of the survey analysts’ questions (i.e., a social scientific
construction) since much of this research in political behavior has been precisely on the
semantics (or meaning for ordinary users of the term) and underlying value dimension of the left-
right orientations in mass publics. In his summary of the field, Weakliem (2005: 232-233) also
stated that “later research has confirmed the general claim that there are at least two largely
independent dimensions of [left and right].”
See for example Huber (1989), the prolific work of Knutsen (e.g., 1988, 1989, 1995), or
Inglehart (1990).
On the concept of entitlement, as used here, see the work of Amartya Sen (e.g., 1981).
Ostiguy 47
In the 18th century, as Laponce (1981) correctly points out, privatization, free competition, and
free trade were on the left, with the right favoring mercantilistic privileges and close ties to the
Crown. Equality and equalization is, and has been, the main criterion to define the left.
It is precisely for this reason that fascist governments in the 20th century, or mercantilist states
in the 18th century, are not considered on the left, even though each favored particularly heavy
state intervention in the economy. The goal of their political intervention in the economy was not
to achieve greater socioeconomic equality.
It would certainly be a mistake to understand the left pole of this subdimension as being
necessarily more “liberal-democratic”, and the right pole as necessarily “anti liberal-
democratic.” Riots, protests, and anarchist bombings, on the left, have often contributed to the
downfall of liberal democracies. Conversely, moderately conservative scholars, such as Almond
and Verba (1963) and many since them, have been arguing for a political culture that allows for
engagement in, and respect for (when not deference to), established institutions as a prerequisite
for stable liberal democracies. A more conservative scholar such as Huntington (1968) of course
went beyond concerns for liberal democracy to state, in contrast, that his main interest was in the
“degree of government” or “political order,” independently of liberal-democratic forms per se.
Just as for the first dimension of left and right with the declining relevance of nationalizations
and the rise of the antiglobalization agenda, issues that are relevant to that second dimension for
a given time period do change, but the overall conceptual polarity remains basically the same.
As is well known, Inglehart (1990) has elaborated the sophisticated and empirically sound
theory, based on Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of needs, that there has been a major “culture shift”
among the public of advanced industrial democracies. Although relative percentages may have
changed historically, it is not clear that “post-materialism” itself or, more exactly, the specific
questions used to measure relation to order, freedom, self-expression, beautification, or military
might are in reality new, even as political, public issues.
Some of the batteries of questions for measuring the post-materialist/materialist divide
basically correspond to a “soft” (“friendlier,” more “beautiful”) versus “hard” (defense, police,
hard work) divide, the soft side of which may admittedly have grown, even if the polarity itself is
not new. However, the questions on workers’ participation refer to a century-old program of the
participatory left dating back to the 19th century. This participatory left seems to have peaked in
48 Ostiguy
different time periods, such as the late 1960s or, in Southern Europe and its offshoots, at the
beginning of the 20th century with the anarcho-syndicalist movement.
We shall return later to Kitschelt’s “political spaces,” when we discuss the very explicit
relation of Kitschelt’s categories to left and right and to the definitions provided here. In terms of
terminology, Kitschelt called this spatial dimension “social-cultural” in most of his early 1990s
writing (Kitschelt and Hellemans 1990; Kitschelt 1992; Kitschelt 1994; Kitschelt et al. 1999),
but repeatedly calls it “political-cultural”—referring to “political-cultural governance”—in his
later, more recent texts (1997: 13940, 2004, 2004; Brinegar, Adam, and Jolly 2004; Kitschelt
and Rehm 2005: 610).
As Knutsen writes, “new politics supporters assume that the explanatory power of this [leftist-
rightist materialism] value dimension diminishes when a social class dealignment or more
generally, a status dealignment takes place. This approach implicitly assumes that left-right
materialist values and social status variables are very closely related so that the former will not
have large causal explanatory power when the impact of the latter variable group seems to be
strongly reduced” (1988: 326–327). In his empirical research, he “found support for the
argument that the Left-Right dimension has altered from a structural class or status cleavage to
an independent ideological cleavage (in a causal sense)” (349).
An underexplored area of left and right, particularly in this second dimension, is the relevance
of rigidity, the danger of “mess” and “dirt,” and the fear of somewhat uncontrollable life (and
“sexualized”) forces, on the part of the right, and, on the other pole on the “new” left, the
centrality of notions of “self-expression” and “self-fulfillment,” when not (to speak in
euphemisms) of “exploratory hedonism.” The polarity between the slogan of métissage (racial
mixing) in France, on the left, and the phobic National Front, on the right, is a very illustrative
case, not entirely unlike the earlier polarity between Haight-Ashbury’s “gyrating” hippies and
Ronald Reagan in late 1960s California.
Back in the 1930s, Wilhelm Reich (1974 [1945]: 157160; 168247) made the quite
original, and historically documented, claim that the Russian revolution turned to the right the
moment it adopted an explicit policy to crack down on the youth communes that had proliferated
in the 19181928 revolutionary period in Russia. While historically questionable from a causal
standpoint, Reich’s analysis is fully in line with that second dimension of left and right, as are
the writings of Habermas (1984: 119–197) on “system” and “lifeworld.” Most movements on the
Ostiguy 49
far right have certainly been much more concerned with phobia of contamination or
“miscegenation” than with the defense of private property.
The conflict and polarity between rebellious students and police forces is certainly not limited
to the advanced industrial countries, nor is the conflict between student-staffed guerrilla and
national guard troops limited to Latin (especially Central) America. See for example Kroes
In fact, nonpolitical science books and magazines directed at a wider public concerned with
questions of social status, distinction, and social trends, such as The Atlantic, have addressed the
phenomenon quite squarely, publishing electoral sociology articles with titles such as “Joe
Sixpack’s Revenge” (Caldwell 2000), “America’s Forgotten Majority” (Rogers and Teixeira
2000) and “Crossing the Meatloaf Line” (in “One Nation, Slightly Divisible,” Brooks 2001) or
highlighting the inverse (social, political, cultural) category of “bobos,” or bourgeois bohemians
(Brooks 2000).
For an example of a normatively “balanced” perspective in that dimension of left and right, see
Hirschman (1979: 8797), with his observations on the complementary (and contradictory)
function of what he called the entrepreneurial (accumulation) and reform (redistributive)
In discussions of politicians’ and parties’ locations in Argentina with both country experts and
nationals, I have found it striking that there is a much greater consensus about where to locate
actors along the (much less well-known) high-low spectrum (of my “creation,” so to speak) than
along the more familiar left-right spectrum.
In fact, spaces delineated by non-orthogonal axes tend to become unidimensional over time.
In a certain way, the two poles of this subdimension largely correspond to what in the US are
called “social conservatives” and “liberals.” No one in the US would doubt that the liberals are to
the left of the conservatives, or the conservatives to the right of the liberals.
That I call this second dimension of left and right “political-cultural” while Kitschelt has
called it “social-cultural” (Kitschelt et al. 1999) is irrelevant here. Both are “noneconomic” and,
more importantly, the specific dimension tapped is the same (Kitschelt et al. 1999: 418419). In
both instances, this dimension has to do with relation to authority, social order, power involved
in social roles and related mores, and perhaps individual “self-government” and expressive self-
50 Ostiguy
development as well. More recently, Kitschelt has also referred to itappropriately--as
“political-cultural” (see endnote 34).
Very unfortunately, in the US this axis is often referred to as “social issues,” while one
thing Kitschelt’s writings and mine do agree on is that it is “cultural” (independently of the
adjective preceding it). This anomalous American media terminology is not unlike the “red”
states standing for states on the right of the spectrum, instead of on the left.
In their empirical study of the semantics of left and right in post-communist Eastern Europe,
Kitschelt et al. find two relevant dimensions of left and right: one socioeconomic and about
economic policy alternatives (dominant cognitively in the Czech Republic and Bulgaria), and the
other non-economic. On the latter dimension, “left and right relate primarily to [non-economic]
issues, with rightist positions signifying policies of closure against autonomy of the individual,
universalistic norms of conduct, multicultural tolerance, and participatory decision making,
while leftist positions endorse such visions of political order” (1999: 73).
To be fair, this mistake of relying on assumptions (themselves not culturally neutral), rather
than observation, has occurred mainly in the comparative politics version of rational choice and
not in the field of political behavior. In political behavior, rational choice does not posit any
preferences a priori and allows for a multiplicity of interests relevant depending on the particular
issue at hand. In elections, of course, there are always many issues on which both politicians and
voters must take a stand.
Positions or preferences (on a scale, in a space, etc.) must be assessed based on empirical
observation, not assumed or “logically” derived from institutions’ rules. In my dissertation work,
I studied the nature and formation of those preferences among popular-sector Peronist voters.
As Fiorina (1996) points out, rational choice is furthermore clearly much less useful for
analyzing mass electoral behavior than the behavior of politicians. The stakes are lower for
people who vote once every few years, many of whom may have little interest in politics, and
whose employment is not a direct consequence of the electoral outcome. To Weyland (2002)’s
criticisms, we would add that people, or voters, may have several rationalities when casting their
The number of dimensions of possible appeals is of course almost infinite, as are, in a different
domain, the issue positions measured in conventional political behavior. There can be leftist and
rightist appeals, nationalist and antinationalist appeals, crass material appeals, cultural-identity
Ostiguy 51
types of appeals, and ideational-normative appeals. Left-right and high-low condense the number
of dimensions. Appeals can also arouse a variety of sentiments: desire (whether for material or
economic gain, or sexual through proxy prowess), fear (of aliens, delinquents, people of color,
etc.), resentment, social envy, etc.
The list of books and articles that have addressed the debate over the meaning of the concept
of populism is too lengthy to include in detail here. One can mention, on the definitional debate
itself, the work of Margaret Canovan (1981, 1982, 1984, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2005), Laclau (1977;
2005), Conniff (1982; 1999), De la Torre (1992), Knight (1998), Taguieff (1995), Weyland
(2001), Collier (2001), Panizza (2005), Arditi (2007), as well as the older pieces by Di Tella
(1965), Ionescu and Gellner (1969), Germani (1978), and Weffort (1978), to name but a few.
Various forces, which can be characterized as anti-populist and more specifically as high,
played a key role in the transformation of their polity. One example, left of center, is that of the
Progressives in the United States. In France, Republican discourse has moved increasingly on the
high and has become a stalwart barrier against all historically resurgent forms of populism, from
Poujadism to Le Pen’s Front National (National Front, or FN), understood in France as a
dangerous form of populism. On the high right in Argentina, repeated attempts by anti-populist
forces to stamp out Peronist populism and return Argentina to “political normalcy” have failed,
but they became ever more central in that country’s violent politics.
I want to thank one of my students, Giampaolo Bianconi, for this wonderful synthesis.
To characterize political style as “a broad,” “not clearly delimited concept” that can be
“occasionally adopted,” or turned on and off at political will, is an easy criticism. On the
contrary, the political style on the low is clearly recognizable and delimited, empirically. It
simply requires a different method of observation and a different acquired comparative expertise:
the watching of innumerable videos of campaign rallies, political advertising, speeches, televised
appearances, etc., all of which are often far from the institutionalists’ domain. Second, style is no
more occasional than populist leaders’ reliance on clientelistic practices (which can also be
increased or decreased).
It appears to me incorrect to include, in and of itself, rule by opinion polls as a form of
populism. It is conceivable to imagine a political leader who is lacking color, completely cold,
and entirely without charisma yet who rules through surveys precisely in order to make sure he
52 Ostiguy
has the numbers and who would be legitimized that way. But without that special appeal, there is
simply no populism.
APRA is the acronym for the Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana (American Popular
Revolutionary Alliance). While APRA was not formally in power at any time during the long
leadership of Haya de la Torre, the Colliers clearly associate the incorporation of labor in Peru to
APRA (as a mass party) during the José Luis Bustamante government.
Books, writings, and speeches of Perón are bountiful on this topic. A classic work by Perón is
his book La comunidad organizada (1983). In line with his military training, one of his key
concepts was “the nation in arms.” Perón in power had an incessant drive to “organize the
people.” Together with “leadership” (conducción), “organization” was his leitmotiv.
The terminology, as listed here, has been somewhat varied, but the basic idea remains one and
the same.
Outside of the work of Madsen and Snow (1991), there has been little empirical study, in Latin
American politics, of “charisma” as charisma—and not as an easy short-cutwith its intrinsic
components of redemption and unlimited allegiance.
While the extremely well documented organizational approach of Levitsky (2003, 2001;
Burgess and Levitsky 2003) explains how the rapid transformations of the PJ were made
possible, it only goes so far in explaining what made (or kept) Peronist populism attractive to
Peronists, besides the simple (but causally limited) truth that it was able to “adapt” pragmatically
to adverse environmental circumstances once in power. “Adaptation,” in and of itself, is not a
source of appeal or a way to increase (Downsian) “utility,” but simply a condition for party or
governmental survival. Obviously, the questions asked here are different.
The behavior of a politician with the lifestyle of a soap opera star, on the low, is likely to be
quite popular among the popular sectors, while it may be looked down upon or condemned on
the high. The examples of Fernando Collor de Melo in Brazil and of Menem in Argentina in the
1990s seem to illustrate this point. The type of comparatively more sober lifestyle displayed by
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, despite his being quite wealthy, stands in sharp contrast.
In developed countries, quite noticeably and differently, populist leaders often appeal
mainly to popular fears (about foreign immigrants, terrorism, national decline, etc.) rather than
desires. This tendency is in fact a characteristic of right-wing populism.
Ostiguy 53
That the so-called dinosaurs were on the low was clear. That they were on the center may be
See Ostiguy (2009). These two Kellogg working papers should normally be read together, as
they form a series.
Once more, we need to reiterate that “high” and “low” are not normative categories. It is
equally possible to politically favor the low as it is to favor the high. Laponce (1981) has
convincingly shown that in everyday usage and in religious worldviews, “right” and “high” are
dominant and normatively positive, with “left” and “low” comparatively negative. But he has
even more convincingly shown that with the inversion brought about by democratic politics
against the “natural cognitive order,” “left” and “from below” have often generally become the
normatively preferred categories of modern politics.
The Unitarians (Unitarios), the centralist political force in 19th-century Argentina (or what
became known as Argentina), were largely based in the city of Buenos Aires and stood in sharp
conflict with the Federals (Federales). The conflict between Unitarios and Federales defined
most of 19th-century Argentine politics.
Any historian cannot but be struck by the aesthetic difference between the “dandy-looking”
Unitarian figures of the independence period, whether on the left, such as Mariano Moreno, or
right of center, such as Bernardino Rivadavia, and the hyper-macho and fierce appearances of
Juan Manuel de Rosas, Facundo Quiroga, José Gervasio Artigas, and most major Federal
Or to be more precise, the Peronist right started a campaign of physical elimination against the
Peronist left, which in turn had been gunning down centrist Peronist union leaders.
I demonstrate this fact in my book manuscript through a logit regression based on survey data.
Results display a remarkable significance level (), under .0005.
Providentially for the present author, the emergence of Hugo Chávez on the political scene
came after the formulation of the concepts of low and high in politics.
The latter is something not overly surprising to me, considering the somewhat “social
Freudianism” underpinning the high-low differences (see Figure 2). In fact, the one truly
surprising absence in Chavismo is the lack of offensive, explicitly sexual (“in your face,” so to
speak) imagery, in sharp contrast with the playful and extreme male obscenities of the Peronist
chants, or the equally extreme sexual public language of Bucaram in Ecuador’s coastal populism.
54 Ostiguy
Note that in both Argentina and Venezuela, it is the anti-populist high that has been most
associated with (successful) military coups, in their aversion to the low.
In other words, “this is not ‘us.’”
The first draft of this paper was written in 2002.
This “liberal” tradition is probably the dominant one in political science and can be traced
back to Aristotle, in whose Politics demagogical leaders on the low gradually become despots.
Oddly enough, Guillermo O’Donnell almost belongs to both categories of scholars. He played
a central role as a scholar in the second perspective during the first part of his career (1977, 1978,
1979a, 1979b, 1988, 1999). His writings on delegative democracy and horizontal accountability
(1994, 1996a, 1996b, 1999a, 1999b), during the more recent part of his career, almost placed him
in the first perspective as well, but in fact not quite, as he is adamantly clear that delegative
democracy is a full form of democracy. One cannot help but think, however, that “delegative
democracy” is a “lesser” form of democracy (or a democracy of particularly low quality), with a
particularly powerfulin the sense of unchecked and, in between elections, unaccountable
leader. The affinity between delegative democracy and populism in electoral democracies is
quite apparent.
The greater emphasis on class analysis in O’Donnell’s early career tends to lead the analyst
to expect a coup from the ruling class (and the right) against populist experiments, while the
greater institutional emphasis in O’Donnell’s later career can lead one to expect (probably as a
misreading) an erosion of liberal institutions of checks and balances in favor of ambitious
populist leaders.
The Concordancia (“deal,” “agreement”) in Argentina was an agreement between some of
Argentina’s main political parties to govern together and to exclude the Radicales Yrigoyenistas
(the Radicales belonging to the Hipolito Yrigoyen wing of the Radical Civic Union), also called
personalistas (personalists) from fairly running for elections. The Radicales Yrigoyenistas had
been the largest political force in Argentina from 1916 to 1930. Yrigoyen was overthrown in
1930 by the first military coup in Argentina.
The Comité de Organización Política Electoral Independiente (Independent Electoral Political
Organization Committee, or COPEI) was one of Venezuela’s two main political parties from the
mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. It is a Christian-Democratic party, on the center-right.
Even macho Febres Cordero, not a populist, was comparatively on the low.
Ostiguy 55
A similar assessment is provided in Mainwaring and Scully (1995). Coppedge (1998b) offers
some nuances to an overall similar appraisal.
For a regional mapping of Ecuadorian parties in the earlier part of the decade, see Eduardo
Pizarro and Simon Pachano, “Atomización y regionalización partidista: Colombia y Ecuador,”
paper presented at the conference “The Crisis of Democratic Representation in the Andes,”
Kellogg Institute for International Studies, 1314 May 2002. On Ecuador, together with the
already cited work of De la Torre, see Freidenberg (2001a, 2001b, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008a,
2008b, 2009), Mejia Acosta (2002), Conaghan (1995), and Mertz (1980, 1983), amongst others.
I wish to express my warmest gratitude to Andres Mejía Acosta, for the original inspiration
and subsequent highly valuable insights about the politics of his country.
In his initial 1990 campaign, Fujimori had also noticeably positioned himself on the culturally
popular, dressing up in a poncho and dropping chicha on the ground in honor of Pachamama,
something quite unprecedented on the part of a presidential candidate in Peru.
Although Peru has historically been a somewhat elitist country politically (at least as perceived
by the population), there have been important politicians on the low before the current
contemporary period, perhaps most conspicuously Manuel Odría.
56 Ostiguy
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... Observa-se, ainda, que há uma propensão, mesmo nos partidos e atores advindos de formações indubitavelmente democráticas, de mobilizar estilos de comunica-ção populista, dado o grau de mediatização das instituições políticas e os hábitos de consumo dos eleitores. Torna-se, assim, comum o recurso a discursos inflamados, assentes num estilo que privilegia o exacerbamento da emoção, o registo popular de linguagem, a gíria, a desconstrução de instituições, legislação e hierarquias, bem como do conhecimento estabelecido (Ostiguy, 2009). A expansão deste estilo político "populista" é impulsionada quer pelo ecossistema digital atual, quer pela mediatização do sentimento de se viver numa ininterrupta crise política, económica e social (Casara, 2019). ...
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... Esta retórica puede considerarse parte de la estrategia performativa a través de la cual los populistas tratan de aumentar y perpetuar la sensación de crisis y confrontación (Moffitt 2015). El uso de malos modos y agresividad de una forma desinhibida forma parte además del estilo habitual de populistas (Ostiguy 2009;Moffitt 2016). ...
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Populism has become one of the most worrying political phenomena, and given its complexity, one of the most controversial and debated today in social sciences. This article deconstructs and compares the discourses of the Spanish parties that are generally classified as populist –the left-leaning Podemos, the right-wing Vox and the Basque and Catalan secessionist parties EH Bildu, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Junts per Catalunya– according to five dimensions of populism: i) antagonism, ii) morality, iii) idealised construction of society, iv) exaltation of popular sovereignty, and v) personalist leadership. This article shows that, despite significant ideological and programmatic differences, all these parties share many discursive features and a similar way of articulating their communications, interpreting social and political dynamics, as well as instrumentalizing crises to build new political identities
... Esta retórica puede considerarse parte de la estrategia performativa a través de la cual los populistas tratan de aumentar y perpetuar la sensación de crisis y confrontación (Moffitt 2015). El uso de malos modos y agresividad de una forma desinhibida forma parte además del estilo habitual de populistas (Ostiguy 2009;Moffitt 2016). ...
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El populismo se ha convertido en uno de los fenómenos políticos que más preocupan y, dada su complejidad, uno de los más controvertidos y debatidos actualmente en las ciencias sociales. Este artículo deconstruye y compara los discursos de los partidos políticos españoles que generalmente son clasificados como populistas —el izquierdista Podemos, el derechista Vox y los partidos secesionistas vascos y catalanes, EH Bildu, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya y Junts per Catalunya— de acuerdo a cinco dimensiones del populismo: i) antagonismo, ii) moralidad, iii) construcción idealizada de la sociedad, iv) exaltación de la soberanía popular, y v) liderazgo personalista. Este artículo muestra que, a pesar de las significativas diferencias ideológicas y programáticas, todos estos partidos comparten muchos rasgos discursivos y una manera similar de articular sus comunicaciones, interpretar las dinámicas sociales y políticas, así como de instrumentalizar las crisis para construir nuevas identidades políticas. Populism has become one of the most worrying political phenomena, and given its complexity, one of the most controversial and debated today in social sciences. This article deconstructs and compares the discourses of the Spanish parties that are generally classified as populist –the left-leaning Podemos, the right-wing Vox and the Basque and Catalan secessionist parties EH Bildu, Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Junts per Catalunya– according to five dimensions of populism: i) antagonism, ii) morality, iii) idealised construction of society, iv) exaltation of popular sovereignty, and v) personalist leadership. This article shows that, despite significant ideological and programmatic differences, all these parties share many discursive features and a similar way of articulating their communications, interpreting social and political dynamics, as well as instrumentalizing crises to build new political identities. Keywords: populism, nationalism, discourses, political parties, Spanish politics
... Varios científicos sociales (e.g. Conaghan 1995; Eaton 2011;Freidenberg 2014;Maiguashca 1992;Martz 1980;Ostiguy 2009;Pachano 2004Pachano , 2006Pareja Diezcanseco 1989) han demostrado la existencia de un cleavage regional persistente que estructura la competencia de los partidos políticos ecuatorianos, en la que los movimientos políticos más «nacionales» reflejan una sucesión de políticos populistas (Martz 1987;de la Torre 2000) 4 . ...
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Este trabajo analiza la evolución de la nacionalización de los partidos políticos en el Ecuador desde el retorno a la democracia. Se utilizan los resultados electorales a nivel distrital entre 1979 y 2017 en tres tipos de elecciones (presidenciales, diputados nacionales y diputados provinciales) para evaluar la homogeneidad territorial de los partidos en cada período (nacionalización 'estática'), además de la uniformidad distrital en el cambio temporal de ese apoyo (nacionalización 'dinámica'). Recurriendo tanto a la cartografía electoral como a un modelo mixto de análisis estadístico, los resultados muestran un alto nivel de volatilidad en ambas dimensiones de la nacionalización para los partidos, incluso para el partido oficialista, Alianza PAIS, durante la presidencia de Rafael Correa. Además, exponen que cuando los partidos han logrado acumular amplio apoyo para sus candidatos legislativos, no se puede atribuir ese desplazamiento territorial a las raíces del partido, sino a un efecto mecánico de la popularidad electoral del correspondiente candidato presidencial. El análisis geográfico indica que el regionalismo persiste en los partidos políticos ecuatorianos desde 1979 hasta la actualidad, a pesar del éxito electoral de Correa y PAIS.
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This paper discusses how the Latin American experience can help us understand contemporary populism and its management. This topic starts from the assumption that structural change and social contexts help us explain the evolution of populism in the same way they helped explain the evolution of violence and management. To do so, we look at the state of the literature on populism, its relation to the Latin American experience, the evolution of the approach to populism, and the conclusions we can draw from these different perspectives. We conclude that contemporary populism is also limited in the same way the contextual approach to Latin American populism was limited. This also helps us understand why we still do not have a shared definition of populism. Overall, we lack the balance between generalisable and local definitions to help leaders manage the contemporary violence of populism.
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The main goal of this article is analysis of the influence of the policy of imitation on the phenomenon of counterrevolution. The aim of the article was to answer the research question whether the politics of imitation and counterrevolution at the level of theoretical considerations can constitute elements of one theory concerning the crisis of liberal democracy in post-communist European countries? The detailed question was whether political imitation is a category by which it is possible to explain the causes of the process of counterrevolution in post-communist Europe? The considerations are based on the concepts of Jan Zielonka, as well as the ideas of Ivan Krasett and Stephen Holmes. In accordance with the principles postulated by Ivan Krastew and Stephan Holmes, the politics of imitation is an important reason for the success of populist, which Jan Zielonka equates with counterrevolution. Negative opinions about the course of the systemic transformation mainly focus on its lack of alternatives, on the problem of imposing liberal values, and on the problem of economic stratification. These premises also constitute the basis for the contemporary problems of the crisis of liberal democracy.
Populist movements centre around a strong political leader and focus on the distinction between ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’. As soon as populists gain government power, they are thus faced with an ideological dilemma: Suddenly, they themselves are the political elite. Continuing in this line of thought, the article aims to understand whether a change in political power affects how populists and their supporters engage in dialogue online. Assuming that populist practices differ depending on the degree to which the politician in question still adheres to the political establishment, the analysis compares tweets by Donald Trump and his supporters with tweets by Boris Johnson and his followers based on 727 tweets posted in two stratified constructed weeks before and after the respective politician took office. By focusing on dialogue practices of populists as well as their supporters in terms of converging or diverging pragma-rhetoric strategies, the article extends existing research on populism by adding the voice of those who conceptualize themselves as embodiment of ‘the people’ that populism evokes. The results show how person deixis and ethotic arguments in online dialogues not only establish a rapport between populist leaders and their followers, but also serve to form collectives that are intransigently opposed to each other.
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We review the methodological debate between defenders of the proximity and directional models. We propose what we believe to be a rigorous and fair test of the two models, using the 1997 Canadian Election Study. The analysis is based on responses to questions in which the various issue positions are explicitly spelled out. We rely on individual perceptions of party positions because it is individual perceptions that matter in the formation of party preferences but we control for projection effects through a multivariate model that incorporates, in addition to indicators of distance and direction, socio-demographic characteristics, party identification, and leader ratings. We also take into account whether a party is perceived to be extreme. The empirical evidence vindicates the proximity model.
Under its umbrella, the European Union covers countries with highly diverse configurations of capitalist political-economic institutions. In the macro-level political economy literature these differences have led scholars to generate a number of hypotheses about the relative gains or losses of individual member countries from important institutional innovations that advance integration, such as the formation of the European Central Bank and a common currency (cf. Hall and Franzese 1998; Iversen 1998). Moreover, individual citizens and labor market participants may perceive costs and benefits differently, contingent upon national wage-bargaining systems or welfare state policies. Domestic political divides between advocates and opponents of EU integration may play out differently and yield contrasting partisan alignments if polities are embedded in different institutional “varieties” of capitalism. In this chapter, we explore how the diversity of capitalist institutions affects political contestation over EU integration in two respects. First, capitalist institutions affect the proportion of voters in each country who have an incentive to challenge EU integration. In other words, political economy shapes the “grievance level” that may provide the raw material of patterns of domestic contestation. Contingent upon existing national economic institutions, citizens calculate how their benefits (in terms of jobs, income growth, etc.) are likely to be affected collectively for most voters (“sociotropic” calculations). Second, they also may focus on their potential individual benefits and costs that result from changes in the expected economic payoffs induced by the consequences of European integration for national political-economic institutions.