Articles

Studies in Comparative International Development

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 37-65

First online:

Classifying Political Regimes in Latin

  • Scott Mainwaring
  • , Daniel Brinks
  • , Aníbal Pérez-Liñán

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Abstract

This article is about how political regimes should generally be classified, and how Latin American regimes should be classified for the 1945–99 period. We make five general claims about regime classification. First, regime classification should rest on sound concepts and definitions. Second, it should be based on explicit and sensible coding and aggregation rules. Third, it necessarily involves some subjective judgments. Fourth, the debate about dichotomous versus continuous measures of democracy creates a false dilemma. Neither democratic theory, nor coding requirements, nor the reality underlying democratic practice compel either a dichotomous or a continuous approach in all cases. Fifth, dichotomous measures of democracy fail to capture intermediate regime types, obscuring variation that is essential for studying political regimes.

This general discussion provides the grounding for our trichotomous ordinal scale, which codes regimes as democratic, semi-democratic or authoritarian in nineteen Latin American countries from 1945 to 1999. Our trichotomous classification achieves greater differentiation than dichotomous classifications and yet avoids the need for massive information that a very fine-grained measure would require.