Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor's Name

Eduardo Gamarra

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee chair

Second Advisor's Name

Tatiana Kostadinova

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Third Advisor's Name

Barry Levitt

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Qing Lai

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee member


populism, polarization, democratization, inclusion, exclusion, personalism, Latin America, Venezuela, Ecuador, Turkey

Date of Defense



This dissertation studies the extent of polarization in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), Ecuador under Rafael Correa (2007-2017), and Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (2002-2015). Theoretically, it develops the concept of leader polarization to describe cases where the elite or/and public opinion polarize over their levels of affection toward charismatic and dominant chief executives. To explain the occurrence of leader polarization, the dissertation unpacks the inclusionary vs. exclusionary nature of populism toward the members of the in-group and the out-group on symbolic, political, and material levels. It also examines how leader polarization contributes to democratic backsliding. Empirically, the dissertation uses qualitative and quantitative methodologies to understand the dynamics of leader polarization in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Turkey. Through qualitative case studies, it describes how Chávez, Correa, and Erdoğan simultaneously offered inclusion vs. exclusion to chavistas/correístas/pro-Erdoğan groups and anti-chavistas/anti-correístas/anti-Erdoğan groups. Furthermore, it discusses how leader polarization pushed the three countries away from liberal democracy toward an authoritarian direction. At the public opinion level, the dissertation uses LAPOP, KONDA, and CSES survey data and aims to find out the predictors of leader polarization. The results of multinomial logistic regressions reveal that political interest and sociotropic evaluations of the economy predict individuals’ expression of extreme affection toward Chávez, Correa, and Erdoğan. Overall, the findings of the dissertation contribute to the literature on polarization, populism, and democratization.







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