Party systems and social policy trajectories in Latin America
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Since democracy took hold throughout the region of Latin America, the social reform strategies that these countries have used to mitigate long-standing inequalities is significantly varied. Some countries have consistently implemented progressive and gradual reforms while others have rapidly pursued expansive or transformative social policy changes. Through the analysis of thirteen Latin American countries finds that – rather than prevailing explanations focused on mass demands and the organization of the working class and political left – social policy trajectories are caused by dynamics between party systems and elections. In countries where party systems are institutionalized and elections become highly competitive, parties increase their competiveness vis-à-vis other political opponents by seeking electoral rewards throughout the promotion of incremental and redistributive policies. In contrast, in countries where inchoate party systems and weakly contested elections are the norm, populism takes root and populist leaders will pursue expansive social reforms that rely on social spending in order to consolidate their fluid political coalitions once reaching office. Over time, countries with institutionalized party systems and competitive elections will implement gradual and progressive social policies while those with inchoate party systems and low electoral competition will enact dramatic reforms that can be progressive or regressive in nature.