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Charismatic Leaders and Democratic Backsliding

On the 5th of March, Professor Marko Klasnja from Georgetown University is scheduled to deliver a presentation on his working paper titled “Charismatic Leaders and Democratic Backsliding” at SSE. This theoretical study dives into the complex dynamics between political parties and charismatic leaders. While charisma boosts electoral success, it may also undermine democratic governance.

Working Paper: Charismatic Leaders and Democratic Backsliding

Charismatic politicians pose interesting dilemmas for democratic governance. Political parties tend to benefit electorally from charismatic politicians’ popularity. However, we demonstrate theoretically that parties may also pay a cost. When they become reliant on a leader’s charisma, parties grow less able to sanction their behavior in office and more prone to catering to their will. We show that this is particularly likely in contexts of high ideological polarization and strong institutional foundations of democracy. This inversion of the power dynamic between parties and politicians provides more room for charismatic leaders to enact anti-democratic policies, if so inclined. We further model to what extent this link between a leader’s charisma and democratic backsliding results from selection (party’s acquiescence at the nomination stage) versus incentives (party’s inability to discipline a sitting incumbent). We use data on leader backgrounds, party illiberalization, democratic backsliding, and autocratic reversion to illustrate the empirical plausibility of our theoretical claims.

About the Speaker

Marko Klasnja is an Associate Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Government Department. He holds a PhD in political science (NYU, 2015). In 2014-2015, he was a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, Princeton.

Professor Marko Klasnja focuses his research on democratic accountability and the inequalities in political representation. He is especially interested in the electoral fortunes of corrupt politicians, the role of parties in democratic accountability, the causes and consequences of politicians’ wealth, and the political attitudes and preferences of wealthy individuals. At Georgetown, he teaches courses on comparative politics and quantitative research methods.

Join the Seminar

If you wish to participate in the SITE Seminar at SSE or join online via Zoom, access to the seminar will be granted exclusively through invitation. To express your interest in attending, kindly reach out to site@hhs.se. Please adhere to the following instructions:

  1. In the subject line, type “SITE Seminar: [INSERT SEMINAR TITLE]”
  2. Specify your affiliation and field of interest.
  3. Additionally, indicate your preference for attending either in person or online.

For confirmed participants, a Zoom link will be shared via email prior to the event, along with comprehensive instructions.