Jason Seawright: Party-System Collapse: The Roots of Crisis in Peru and Venezuela

Article excerpt

Jason Seawright

Party-System Collapse: The Roots of Crisis in Peru and Venezuela

Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012, xi + 293 pp.

Henry Dietz, University of Texas at Austin

The rise and fall of political parties has generated an endless literature over the years, and one might well ask if another monograph on the topic is warranted. The answer, at least as far as Jason Seawright's book is concerned, is a serious and resounding affirmative. Seawright does what all authors of monographs should do--select a good topic, treat it carefully and thoroughly and innovatively, and report on it in exactly the same way.

Seawright starts his study by asking what combination of factors can lead to the collapse of a party system. His concern is not with a particular party but with a party system collapse, a much more widespread and shattering event that brings about the downfall of a cluster of parties that had previously competed with one another to an outsider (a word now widely used in Spanish throughout Latin America), who as a rule rejects any and all linkages with that cluster. To address this question (or more realistically, this group of interrelated questions), Seawright constructs a comprehensive model and applies it to two cases--the collapse of what had been widely viewed as a highly institutionalized two-party system in Venezuela and the concomitant rise of Hugo Chavez in 1998, and the downfall of a much more inchoate party system in Peru and the triumph of Alberto Fujimori in 1990. These two cases give Seawright substantial differences in terms of the party system involved but a common outcome.

His model (12) requires multiple kinds of data, since it includes explanatory variables on the individual level (e.g., voter anxiety and anger, voter attention to corruption, and voter degree of risk acceptance), along with more macro-level variables (e.g., generalized societal crisis, ideological under-representation, declines in party identification [ID]). Applying such a model to two countries requires a great deal of care and effort; after all, the data sets must be comparable one with the other, or else the whole advantage of comparison will be lost.

Seawright brings to his effort a considerable background in political science and also graduate work in statistics and computer science, and this background is evident throughout the book. He realizes from the start that he cannot test every component of his model; in particular, "systematic data regarding political affect are, to date, rare for Latin America" (29). He therefore adopts an eclectic approach that uses quantitative data and experimental evidence to examine emotions, risk, and willingness to vote for an outsider. And throughout his study, Seawright also frequently compares his two principal cases with Argentina and with Latin America as a whole.

One of the most notable aspects of Seawright's book is his careful stepby-step analysis. He begins with a quantitative analysis of both countries' economic crises (inflation, growth, unemployment) that concludes that "none of the statistical models considered here adequately accounts for the changes in governing-party vote that occurred . …