Whether in the northern provinces of Argentina, the central states of Mexico, or the southern states of the United States, less-than-democratic subnational regimes are often found within democratic national political systems. However, little is known about how or if these subnational pockets foster political attitudes and behavior that threaten the democratic norms that exist at the national level.
Life in the Political Machine offers one of the first systematic explorations of the ways in which subnational “dominant-party enclaves” influence citizens’ political attitudes and behaviors through a focus on the provinces and states of Argentina and Mexico. Specifically, the authors find starkly divergent patterns of political attitudes and behaviors among citizens in dominant-party enclaves as opposed to those living in competitive multiparty systems. In the latter, the authors find a political culture that approximates what scholars have long documented in established democracies. In the former, they uncover three factors–the politicization of the rule of law, an uneven electoral playing field, and the partisan cooptation of state resources–that strongly shape citizens’ understanding of democratic principles, accountability, and political participation. The authors argue that this environment erodes public support for democracy at the national level and that these local strongholds of illiberalism thus provide added fuel to the recent drift from democracy globally. Ultimately, this book calls for greater attention to subnational variations in citizens’ political attitudes and behaviors in order to more fully understand the process through which a national democratic political culture can emerge.