Book chapter

Party Organizational Structure in Latin America (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics


Partisan organizations are the set of structured patterns of interaction among political cadres and members alike that are prescribed either by formal rules of procedure or by traditions and unwritten rules. Scholars of Latin America have generally described local partisan organizations as weak but have also devoted significant attention to the study of informal party structures, whose robustness and complexity have tended to contrast with the general fragility of their formal counterparts. Although important data-related challenges have precluded more systematic and generalizable analyses of the causes and consequences of party organizations, meticulous theoretical works and case studies have explored the questions of what organizations look like, how they operate, how they were built, and what outcomes they result in. This literature has identified ideational and tangible resources as the primary predictors of organizational strength. Strong and easily identifiable party brands provide both politicians and partisans with incentives to join and remain in a political party even in times of bad electoral performance and limited selective benefits. Material resources are shaped by countries' institutional frameworks and structure politicians' priorities in terms of their career ambitions and their relationships to voters and partisans. In turn, robust organizations have been associated with longer party survival and a narrower margin of action of the party leaderships. The presence of an extended network of party members and sympathizers make parties more resilient to short-term challenges, which is no small feat in a region marked by relatively high electoral volatility and many institutions of fleeting existence. The recent release of several important data sets and the proliferation of knowledge of how parties work create exciting avenues for future research.