Welcome to my website. I hold a BA in Journalism and Mass Communication from the Universidad Católica de Chile (2002), a MA in Political Science from the Universidad de Chile (2007), and a MA and a PhD in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh (2015). Currently I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University.
My central line of inquiry explores how the individual differences among presidents have an impact on governance. Does it matter who the president is? If so, how does it matter? These are the main questions that motivate my research. Most quantitative political science research that analyzes the presidency treats individual differences as “residual variance” in models of policymaking. My research challenges this approach, building on the literature on psychology that has shown that all individuals have stable differences that strongly explain variance in their behavior. I argue that presidents’ individual differences help explain highly relevant political phenomena, including institutional change and policy outcomes.
My research in this topic is mainly channeled through my current book project. In this manuscript I argue that the individual differences of presidents are factors that explain which leaders attempt to change the constitution to increase their powers or relax their term limits. Thirty eight presidents of the Americas have made such attempts forty eight times since 1945. I hypothesize that presidents who are risk prone and have an assertive personality are more likely to attempt to change the constitution. I test the theory using a novel dataset of personality traits and background characteristics for presidents who governed the Americas between 1945 and 2012. The empirical analyses support the hypotheses in the cases of presidents that try to change their powers, while the leaders’ assertiveness also proves to be a relevant cause of their attempts to relax their term limits.
To study presidential behavior, I led a research team that created the Presidential Database of the Americas. This dataset captures several personality traits and background characteristics of the 315 presidents who governed the Americas between 1945 and 2012 for at least six months. The dataset integrates information from three sources. First, a survey distributed to 911 experts provides psychometric measurements of the presidents’ risk propensity, assertiveness, dominance, and the five-factor personality model. This survey also captures the presidents’ socialization into politics, economic origin, ideology, religiosity, relation with the previous government, and decision-making style. Second, data taken from the presidents’ biographies captures background characteristics of the leaders, such as their level of education, birth order, marital status, etc. Finally, the dataset includes the information captured in the semi-structured interviews conducted with 21 former presidents from eight countries.
My second line of research is the comparative study of institutions, with a focus on Latin America. I study informal institutions, constitutional change, judicial politics, executive-legislative relations and elections.
My research has been published or is forthcoming in the Journal of Law and Courts, The Journal of legislative Studies, Latin American Politics and Society, Latin American Perspectives, The Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance, Bolivian Studies Journal, Revista de Ciencia Política and Política. For more information on my professional background and academic projects, please refer to the other links.
Ignacio Arana Araya