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SITE Brown bag seminar | Charismatic leaders and democratic backsliding

Welcome to the next SITE brown bag seminar! On 5 March, Prof. Marko Klasnja from Georgetown University will present his working paper entitled "Charismatic leaders and democratic backsliding" at SSE. The 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 title: 'Charismatic leaders and democratic backsliding'

By: James R. Hollyer, Marko. Klasnja and Rocio Titiunik


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 Klajsna is an associate professor at Georgetown University [...]

Furthermore, Marko has 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. His research focuses 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 teach courses on comparative politics and quantitative research methods.

Interested in attending the SITE Brown bag seminar at SSE or online via Zoom?

The link to the seminar will be distributed by invitation only. If you are interested in attending the seminar – please contact site@hhs.se. Follow the instructions below:

  • Type the subject box with “Brown bag seminar *INSERT SEMINAR TITLE*”
  • Indicate your affiliation and field of interest
  • Please also indicate if you want to attend in person or online

For registered applicants, a Zoom link will be provided prior to the event via email with further instructions.

Photo: Vitalii Vodolazskyi, Shutterstock


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