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A Two-Level Theory of Presidential Instability



This article analyzes the conditions that facilitate the ousting of Latin American presidents and the mechanisms that prevent their downfall. Drawing lessons from the impeachment of Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo, it extends previous arguments about the “legislative shield” to show that the same forces that sometimes conspire to terminate an administration at other times work to resist its demise. The argument underscores the interaction between legislators and social movements, two prominent actors in the literature on presidential instability. The article presents a two-level theory to identify possible configurations of mass and legislative alignments, and tests some implications of the theory with data for 116 Latin American presidents over 28 years. Multiple comparison tests based on random effects logistic models show that popular protests can be neutralized by strong support in Congress, and hint at the possibility that legislative threats can be neutralized by loyal demonstrators in the streets.