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Social Context and Campaign Volatility in New Democracies: Networks and Neighborhoods in Brazil's 2002 Elections


  • Thanks to Jorge Dominguez, Kenneth Greene, Robert Huckfeldt, Chappell Lawson, William Mayer, Mauro Porto, David Samuels, Ethan Scheiner, Katherine Cramer Walsh, members of the Latin American Seminar Series at Harvard University, and the Political Science Department at the University of California-Davis for valuable comments and assistance. The data collection for this project was funded by the National Science Foundation (SES #0137088).

Andy Baker is assistant professor of political science, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115-5000 ( Barry Ames is Mellon Professor of Comparative Politics, Department of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 ( Lucio R. Renno is assistant professor, Center for Latin American Studies, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721 (


In new democracies party systems are often young, so partisan cues and roots in the electorate tend to be weak. The results, in many instances, include volatile campaigns with comparatively high degrees of short-term preference change among voters. We explore the mechanisms of voter volatility and, more broadly, the ways in which citizens learn about issues and candidates in weak-party systems. We claim that citizens in such settings rely heavily upon persuasive information gathered from their immediate social contexts. Utilizing a unique panel survey implemented during Brazil's historic 2002 presidential election, we demonstrate the importance of political discussion within social networks and neighborhood context for explaining preference change during election campaigns. We also demonstrate the concrete political consequences of social context by showing how candidate momentum runs can be driven by waves of discussion.