Why Presidents Fail: Political Parties and Government Survival in Latin America

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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503632868


Democracy and political parties go hand in hand. Strong parties are fundamental for advancing, stabilizing, and improving democratic governance. But how exactly do political parties relate to, and contribute to, the survival of presidential administrations? Since 1979, over twenty Latin American chief executives had been forced out of office, without a democratic breakdown—a phenomenon known as “presidential failure.” Why Presidents Fail offers a nuanced assessment of how political parties influence how and when executives weather political crises and unrest.

Christopher A. Martínez takes a close look at how different factors come into play to explain why some presidents complete their terms in office without incident, others barely make it to the end after stumbling upon crisis after crisis, and some are forced out or impeached before their term is finished. Drawing on a novel theoretical approach, an original database on presidential scandals and anti-government demonstrations, regression (survival analysis) models, country case studies, and interviews with more than one hundred country specialists and top-level politicians, Why Presidents Fail provides an innovative, comprehensive assessment of how political parties influence presidential survival and contributes fresh ideas to the debates on the stability of presidential governments.


“Christopher A. Martínez sheds important new light on presidential crises in Latin America by stressing the crucial role of party institutionalization. Based on thorough, in-depth research, he convincingly substantiates this argument with a range of country case studies.”

—Kurt G. Weyland, The University of Texas at Austin

“Why are presidential crises recurrent in some Latin American countries but so rare in others? Martínez shows that the president’s legislative shield is tempered by the institutionalization of the legislative parties. Why Presidents Fail artfully combines statistical evidence and seven country studies to sustain this novel and important argument.”

— Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, University of Notre Dame

“This book makes an important contribution to our understanding of how presidential democracies function. Political parties under presidentialism are understudied and by focusing on their role in supporting or opposing presidents, Martínez raises crucial questions.”

—José Antônio Cheibub, University of Pittsburgh

“Presidential failure has been a frequent scholarly topic in a region where presidents often face serious crises, and some have been forced out before finishing their terms. Why Presidents Fail offers an innovative perspective centered on how party institutionalization influences presidents’ survival in office. This is obligatory reading at a time when parties appear increasingly uprooted, and presidential outsiders seem to be the order of the day.”

— Mariana Llanos, German Institute for Global and Area Studies