World Politics

Research Article

The Populist Road to Market Reform: Policy and Electoral Coalitions in Mexico and Argentina

Edward L. Gibsona1*

a1 Northwestern University


Governing parties face two fundamental tasks: they must pursue policies effectively, and they must win elections. Their national coalitions, therefore, generally include two types of constituencies—those that are important for policy-making and those that make it possible to win elections. In effect, governing parties must bring together a policy coalition and an electoral coalition. This distinction sheds light on how the transitional costs of major economic policy shifts can be made sustainable in electoral terms. It also provides a starting point for analysis of how two of Latin America's most important labor-based parties, the Peronist party in Argentina and the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in Mexico, maintained electoral dominance while pursuing free-market reforms that adversely affected key social constituencies. Peronism and the PRI are conceived of as having encompassed historically two distinctive and regionally based subcoalitions: a metropolitan coalition that gave support to the parties' development strategies and a peripheral coalition that carried the burden of generating electoral majorities. This framework permits a reconceptualization of the historic coalitional dynamics of Peronism and the PRI and sheds light on the current process of coalitional change and economic reform.

Edward L. Gibson is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. He is the author of Class and Conservative Parties: Argentina in Comparative Perspective (1996).

* I would like to thank Robert Ayres, Valerie Bunce, Ernesto Calvo.Tulia Falleti, José María Ghio, Judith Gibson, Bela Greskovits, Michael Hanchard, Blanca Heredia, Mark Jones, Kevin Middlebrook, María Victoria Murillo, Mick Moore, Hector Schamis, Ben Ross Schneider, Jeffrey Winters, and Meredith Woo-Cumings for comments on earlier versions of this article. The Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico and the Universidad Torcuato Di Telia in Argentina provided much appreciated forums for presentation of the article. I am grateful as well to the Center for International and Comparative Studies and the Department of Political Science at Northwestern University for the financial support that made the research for this article possible.