Lennart Brunkert / Christian von Soest

Praising the Leader: Personalist Legitimation Strategies and the Deterioration of Executive Constraints

Democratization | 2022

  • Abstract

    In the face of current democratic backsliding and autocratization processes, research has rediscovered issues of autocratic legitimation. However, the question of whether rulers’ personalist rhetoric to bolster their legitimacy is followed by congruent political action remains underspecified. Using new expert-coded measures for 164 countries from the Varieties of Democracy project, we examine the political rhetoric–action link using using fixed effects models. The results confirm that shifts towards personalist legitimacy claims are no cheap talk but oftentimes important warning signals for a substantial deterioration of democratic quality, manifested in weaker judicial and legislative oversight of the executive branch. However, in contrast to much current concern, we show that liberal democracies seem to largely escape the negative repercussions of government discourses that increasingly stress the uniqueness of the ruler.

    Research Programmes



    Lennart Brunkert

    Leuphana University of Lüneburg

    Dr. Christian von Soest

    Lead Research Fellow / Head of Research Programme "Peace and Security"

    T. +49 (0)40 - 428 25-590christian.vonsoest@giga-hamburg.de

    GIGA Focus Latin America | 1/2023

    Closing Spaces: The Last Bulwark of Nicaraguan Civil Society under Attack

    The Nicaraguan government’s attack on Catholic priests is bringing the former alliance between the government and the Church to breaking point, while contributing also to the gradual implosion of the authoritarian regime. While the Pope encourages dialogue, the space for civil society has eroded.

    Désirée Reder

    Doctoral Researcher


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