The Relevance of Political Parties in Electoral Competition in Argentine Provinces


In this post, I would like to summarize some of my thoughts about the topic of political competition and its relation with political parties at the subnational level in Argentina. I have already claimed in my previous post that in some of the provinces, political parties’ preferences can’t be tied to the policy outcomes. As I have discovered in my research, there was no apparent connection between the opposition strength and the adoption of institutions of control and oversight, contrary to what the previous research suggested (Melo, Pereira and Figueiredo 2009). The authors claim that the level of institutionalization of political competition (which they measure by a proxy – electoral volatility) is the key factor in the adoption of institutions of control and oversight. They also throw institutional design in the mix. But by assuming that the volatility can explain the quality of an oversight institution, they are missing lots of information.

I have a particular research question on mind. When analysis of political competition through measures of party competition loses its explanatory power?

  • When there is a strong faction competition;
  • When the decisions of legislature are being vetoed by the executive; in Argentina, there is a long tradition of caudillo style of politics. This power is often manifested by using the veto to undermine the legislature.
  • When the political competition takes place in a closed game (Behrend, 2011); closed games are characterized by having a) free and fair elections; b) family politics (only members of families have access to top government positions); c) control of the media; d) control of the province; e) control of business opportunities; f) control of the judiciary.
  • When nationalized political crisis does not lead to a victory of a more democratic style of politics; the logic of this point revolves around the closed game, and is also connected to the boundary control theory (Gibson 2005). One of the main reasons why illiberal (or authoritarian, as Gibson calls them) provincial governments fail is through nationalization of a scandal (and it can be almost any type of scandal, from a murder to an electoral fraud). After such events, the governing elites can be taken down by the federal intervention, or by an electoral defeat from the opposition. What seems to be the problem here is the fact that the literature assumes that the political force which comes empowered from the crisis would actually be more democratic in its political style.
  • When the competition is not accompanied by a clear ideological stance; provincial competition between provincial parties is often focused on the marginalized voters, thus using the logic of direct delivering of goods and services. This isn’t accompanied by a fixed ideological position with fixed position on central issues, such as provincial economy, functioning of administration or fighting the corruption. During the election, this can become observable by the fact that the political program highlights the importance of individual candidates (especially ones who run for a governor) and their personal qualities. Most societal cleavages which are normally present in Europe are reduced to a peronism vs. antiperonism.
  • When the opposition is only nominal; other political parties are not making being enough critic of the actions of the government. They often participate in government projects, and don’t openly question the government. This particular feature can be tested only where there is a digital record of MPs votes. We are currently working on this one with my colleague Michal Škop.
  • When a national party does not participate in the nomination of the candidates in all types of elections;


Behrend, Jacqueline. “The Unevenness of Democracy at the Subnational Level: Provincial Closed Games in Argentina.” Latin American Research Review46.1 (2011): 150-176.

Gibson, Edward L. “Boundary control: Subnational authoritarianism in democratic countries.” World Politics 58.01 (2005): 101-132.

Melo, Marcus André, Carlos Pereira, and Carlos Mauricio Figueiredo. “Political and institutional checks on corruption: Explaining the performance of Brazilian audit institutions.” Comparative Political Studies (2009).

Tula, María Inés. “Ley de lemas, elecciones y estrategias partidarias. Los casos de La Rioja, Santa Cruz y Santa Fe.” Boletín SAAP 3.5 (1997): 3-26.


Closed Games in Argentine Provinces

Since I have been doing research about the Argentine provinces, I decided to cover some of my latest thoughts about it here. First, let me acknowledge that as a political scientist from Czech republic, I suffer from certain limitations in my imagination about how things actually work, and my research represents also my endeavor in learning that there is no general truth to what is good and what it bad, but that we rather have to deal with certain limited arena of policy choices, in which actors tend to operate. Therefore, all 23 provinces (+ federal district Buenos Aires, which behaves in the same way), they really test my ability to understand what is the Latin American policy making and how it works.

For my dissertation, I chose a topic which focuses on the provincial process of state-building after the restoration of democracy in 1983. I decided to pick up institutions of control and oversight I would implement, and then test whether their adoption could be explained by the level of political competition in each province. My main inspiration came from the book Rebuilding the Leviathan (Grzymala-Busse, 2007), in which the author claimed that state exploitation was restricted by the political competition. I wanted to expand Grzymala-Busses theory to a completely new setting of subnational units in Argentina, and test it quantitatively.

I picked four provinces (Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa and Misiones) from the same Northeastern region, and used them in my model (in which I used Taagepera’s measures of effective number of parties and balance of parties; Laakso Taagepera, 1979; Taagepera, 2007) to see whether there was something to the relation between political competition and adoption of institutions of control and oversight. You can check the data here. I took every election to the provincial legislature in years 1983-2009 for each province, and established when each institution was adopted. In sum, I had 364 cases. In every case, I included the information, whether a particular institution was created (green circle) or not (red dot). You can see the result in the graph:


As you can see, there is no pattern in the data. Sometimes, institutions appeared when there was no competition, and sometimes they did not appear despite it.

Why I was wrong?

My main problem was that I never asked myself an important question: What role does the provincial party plays in the policy-making process? By being heavily influenced by the literature on the topic (Suárez Cao, 2011; Gibson and Suárez Cao, 2010; Došek and Freidenberg, 2013) I also automatically accepted the premise that political competition takes place between the parties. But there is a slight problem. Political parties serve as a vessel that is used to resolve internal and external competition among the provincial elites. Argentine provinces represent what Behrend describes as a closed game (Behrend, 2011) between political families. Members of families, who don’t necessarily have a family bondage, are groups of people connected to a certain power group in the province, which usually controls a significant amount of economic activities in the province, as well as media and access to resources.

So if we use measures that only indicate the competition to analyze the process of policy-making in any province, we are actually missing a huge amount of information.

Implications for my research

I realized that political competition could not explain the adoption of institutions of control and oversight, because political families are much more interested in maintaining the game closed. It does not mean that institutions of control and oversight do not appear at all. On the contrary, even provinces that are widely considered to be hybrid regimes (such as Formosa or Corrientes in the case of my research) adopted a significant amount of them deliberately. The reason why is to be seen, but my guess right now would be that:

  1. To provide legitimacy to the politics
  2. To create job opportunities for the loyal members of families
  3. To use them against their possible political opponents (this would be the case of Misiones in my research)
How to analyze it?

I suggest that there are a number of ways how to proceed with analyzing my assumptions. First would be to look at the electronic voting register (wherever possible) from the provincial legislatures to check how MPs voted on important anti-corruption laws, and also go through the parliamentary discussion about the topic. Second, check who works for each institution of control.

  • Politic science focusing Argentine provinces assumes that political party is the main policy maker. Provincial governments are often (but not always) working as closed games. In closed games, the main actors are political families. Political families are behind the party financing, and their members are spread across different parties/factions in order to secure family interests.
  • As the evidence from my data shows, we cannot establish a pattern that would suggest that there is a positive impact of political competition on the adoption of the institutions of control.
  • Higher political competition might also be a consequence of a careful gerrymandering, in which families create their electoral fortresses, while competing only for a small territory. This would make elections less resource intensive and also work as a guarantee to the political families a stable constituency, which can be mobilized and work as a more effective safeguard against their opponents. Last benefit is that it would not allow others to enter to their closed game.

Behrend, Jacqueline. “The Unevenness of Democracy at the Subnational Level: Provincial Closed Games in Argentina.” Latin American Research Review 46.1 (2011): 150-176.

Došek, Tomáš, and Flavia Freidenberg. “La congruencia de los partidos y los sistemas de partidos multinivel en América Latina: conceptualización y evaluación de algunas herramientas de medición. Politai.” Revista de Ciencia Política 4.2 (2013): 161-178.

Gibson, Edward L., and Julieta Suárez-Cao. “Federalized party systems and subnational party competition: Theory and an empirical application to Argentina.” Comparative Politics (2010): 21-39.

Grzymala-Busse, Anna. Rebuilding Leviathan: Party competition and state exploitation in post-communist democracies. Cambridge University Press, 2007.

O’Dwyer, Conor. Runaway state-building: Patronage politics and democratic development. JHU Press, 2006.

Laakso, Markku, and Rein Taagepera. “Effective number of parties: A measure with application to West Europe.” Comparative political studies 12.1 (1979): 3-27.

Suárez Cao, Julieta. “¿ Federal en teoría pero unitaria en la práctica?: Una discusión sobre el federalismo y la provincialización de la política en Argentina.” Revista SAAP 5.2 (2011): 0-0.

Taagepera, Rein. Predicting party sizes: the logic of simple electoral systems. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Introduction to the Apocalypse: On the Form and Method. Or Method and Form. Or Both.

And here I am.

We live in an era of deep conflict, which has its root in an uneven distribution of wealth, resources and power. It is not possible to assume this status quo is unchangeable or even natural to us as a society. If we do not reflect on our positions soon, we will indeed be living in the future that will be a fucking mess.

This blog is something I have been thinking about for a very long time. Yet my passivity made me postpone it almost ad infinitum. But as the time passes by, I feel more of an urge to express myself clearly and put a new form to my ideas.

I decided to write in English for the reasons that are compatible with my perception of reality. This seems a little bit odd, but let me explain. I do believe that personal blogs are slowly yet constantly becoming increasingly important for both public and science. Being an aspirant for a PhD. in political science, I have found myself more and more interested in the opinions expressed freely on the Internet rather than formulated and published in the academic journals, where the form usually exceeds the content. I by myself have experienced the tedious academic procedure where it is the critique of the methodology what is established as a core of the science. What I quickly realize was that many of my colleagues often lack any ideas. They are just education-made-machines that pop out a series of articles and books, without clearly considering the basic process of their so called scientific approach.

Blogs are different. They offer space to those who are not satisfied with the current standards, and it gives them a very important tool for self-expression that, if good, reaches more people and gives them day-to-day inspiration in their lives. This is why I write in English, instead of Czech. We need to overcome the obstacles – language, culture, tradition; in order to be able to realize our sameness.

My reality is different from the reality most of us finds ourselves in every day. It is living and changing. It constantly demands my adjustment, and it gives me further reasons to explore science as well as culture. It is not possible to capture it by mere observation. It has to be lived.