​Ignacio Arana Araya

​Peer-reviewed Publications

“Strategic Retirement in Comparative Perspective: Supreme Court Justices in Presidential Regimes”(with Aníbal Pérez-Liñán).

2017. Journal of Law and Courts, Vol.5 (N°2): pp. 173–197

Students of judicial behavior debate whether justices time their retirement to allow for the nomination of like-minded judges. We formalize the assumptions of strategic retirement theory and derive precise hypotheses about the conditions that moderate the effect of partisan incentives on judicial retirements. The empirical implications are tested with evidence for Supreme Court members under democracies and dictatorships, in six presidential regimes between 1900 and 2004. The theory of strategic retirement finds little support in the United States and elsewhere. We conclude that researchers should emphasize "sincere" motivations for retirement, progressive political ambitions, and—crucial in weakly institutionalized legal systems—political pressures.

"Chile 2016: ¿El Nadir de la Legitimidad Democrática?"

2017. Revista de Ciencia Política, Vol.37 (Nº2): pp.305-333. [Chile 2016: The nadir of democratic legitimacy?]

This article argues that the legitimacy of the political system is currently at its lowest point since the return to democracy. Presidential approval ratings dipped to a record low in 2016. The year also saw the highest levels of electoral absenteeism and distrust in the three branches of government, and the lowest levels of identification with political parties. This low legitimacy of the political system can be attributed to cyclical —governmental mismanagement and corruption scandals— and underlying causes —interpersonal mistrust, detachment from the political activity and insulated elites—. If these trends continue, we may witness a transformation of the party system, the emergence of populist movements and leaders, and the erosion of the quality of Chilean democracy.

“What Drives Evo’s Attempts to Remain in Power? A Psychological Explanation” 

2016. Bolivian Studies Journal 22: 191-219. 

The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, has managed to govern longer than all of his predecessors thanks to his three successful attempts to relax his term limits. In this article, I argue that the high risk-taking personality of Morales, especially his social risk-taking, helps to explain why he has consistently tried to extend his time in the presidency. To address this proposition I follow a twofold strategy. First, I show the results of a survey conducted among experts in presidents of the Americas. This survey measured different personality traits of the leaders that governed between 1945 and 2012, including their risk-taking. Second, I examine some of the most important decisions that Morales has made throughout his adult life. Both the survey and the analysis of Morales’ trajectory suggest that his
attempts to cling to power are rooted in a risk-taking dynamics.

“¿Cómo evaluar a los integrantes de la élite política? Una propuesta basada en los presidentes americanos”

2016. Política 54(1): 219-254. [How to assess the members of the political elite? A proposal based on presidents of the Americas]  

This article critically reviews the study of the political elite, including the historical evolution of its meaning, role, composition, independence and ways of analyzing its members. It argues that to effectively study elite members their individual differences should be examined. This paper looks at individual differences among presidents, those at highest levels of the political elite in presidential systems. It finds that as a group, presidents of the Western Hemisphere come from moderately affluent socioeconomic backgrounds, at least one third are either lawyers or come from the security forces, and that they tend to score low on agreeableness and neuroticism, moderately high in extroversion and openness to experience, and high in conscientiousness. This exercise suggests a research agenda that may be extended to other members of the elite.

“Aftershocks of Pinochet’s Constitution: The Chilean Postearthquake Reconstruction”
2016. Forthcoming in Latin American Perspectives. DOI: 10.1177/0094582X16637145

The criticism of the reconstruction that followed the cataclysm in Chile in 2010 has centered on contingent factors including the performance of politicians. An examination of the way structural factors conditioned the governmental response to the 8.8 earthquake shows that the constitution created by the military regime shaped the reconstruction through provisions that limited vertical and horizontal accountability in intrastate and state-society relations. The subsidiary state, executive-legislative power relations, the binomial electoral system, and the appointment rather than election of regional authorities favored a recovery effort that has been underinstitutionalized, privatized, characterized by scant participation of victims, and marred by irregularities. An analysis of governmental reports, media outlets, polls, and semistructured interviews conducted with legislators, social leaders, and scholars sheds light on the relation between the constitution and the recovery.

“Budgetary Negotiations: How the Chilean Congress overcomes its constitutional limitations”

2015. Journal of Legislative Studies 21(2): 213-231.

Recent research suggests that the Chilean Congress is marginalized in the policy making process, especially when setting the budget. This paper argues that previous studies have overlooked that the legislature uses two amendment tools –specifications and marginal notes– to increase the national budget and reallocate resources within ministries. This behaviour contradicts the constitution, which only allows Congress to reduce the executive’s budget bill. To test this empirically, a pooled Two-Stage Time-Series-Cross-Sectional analysis is conducted on ministries for the years 1991-2010. The findings clarify how the legislature surpasses its constitutional limits and demonstrate that specifications are useful to predict when Congress increases or decreases a ministry’s budget.

​​​​“Informal Institutions and Horizontal Accountability: Protocols in the Chilean Budgetary Process”2013. Latin American Politics and Society 55(4): 74-90.

Studies of executive-legislative relations are usually based only on the analysis of formal institutions, although informal institutions also shape interbranch behavior. This omission leads to questionable results when scholars examine the capacity of state institutions to audit other public agencies and branches of government. This article explores how the protocols, an informal institution that shapes the Chilean budgetary negotiations, have increasingly allowed the congress to have a more relevant budgetary role than what the constitution permits. It argues that protocols accommodate some of the undesired consequences of a charter that is strongly biased toward the central government, and describes how this institution has departed from its stringent budgetary focus to encompass broader executive-legislative agreements that enhance the legislature’s capacity to oversee the executive.

¿Quién le susurra al Presidente? Asesores versus ministros en América Latina”
2012. Política 50(2): 33-61.
[Who whispers to the president? Advisors versus ministers in Latin America]

This article examines who influences presidential decisions within the Executive and how this occurs. Based on interviews with twenty-one former presidents, this paper argues that the tension between advisors and ministers varies according to the type of presidential leadership and whether the president freely appoints ministers or they are imposed by political parties. The interaction between both variables conditions relations between advisors and ministers, allowing advisors to complement, substitute, accommodate or compete with ministers’ duties. To systematize this argument, this paper proposes a categorization of the degree of conflict that exists between ministers and advisors.

                                                                        Book Chapters

​2018. “Comparative Political Elites.” Forthcoming in Ali Farazmand and Mauricio Olavarría-Gambi, eds., The Global Encyclopedia of Public Administration, Public Policy, and Governance. Springer International Publishing. 

                                          Other Publications

“5 lessons from former presidents on making good decisions.” Published in The Washington Post online, May 5, 2017. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/05/05/5-lessons-from-ex-presidents-on-making-good-decisions/?utm_term=.23dc04adbdcb

“¿Cómo se hace un Presidente?” Interview in Radio Cooperativa (Chilean radio). April 21, 2017. Available at: https://player.fm/series/la-historia-es-nuestra/la-historia-es-nuestra-cmo-se-hace-un-presidente.

“Democracia y matrimonios presidenciales: poca competencia y rotación en la élite política.” Published in Nueva Sociedad (Argentinian magazine) 266, November-December 2016. Available at: http://nuso.org/articulo/democracia-y-matrimonios-presidenciales/

“Does it matter who the president is? If so, how does it matter?” Published in the Presidential Power blog (British blog), February 26, 2016. Available at: http://presidential-power.com/?p=4529

“La discusión constitucional en perspectiva comparada.” Published in La Tercera online (Chilean newspaper), May 28, 2013. Available at:

                                                                            Book Reviews

Gootenberg, Paul, and Luis Reygadas (editors). Indelible Inequalities in Latin America: Insights from History, Politics, and Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). In The Latin Americanist, 2012, Vol. 56, Issue 2: 191-192.

Hindery, Derrick. From Enron to Evo (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2014). In Bolivian Studies Journal, Vol. 20, 2014.  

                                                                             Book Project

"The Quest for Uncontested Power: How Presidents' Personality Traits Leads to Constitutional Change in the Western Hemisphere"

Does it matter who the president is? If so, how does it matter? Most political science research that analyzes the presidency treats the individual differences of presidents as “residual variance”. I challenge this approach arguing that presidents’ decisions are shaped by their individual differences. I test the argument examining which presidents attempt to make constitutional changes to increase their powers or extend their terms.
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 answer the research question using a novel dataset of personality traits and background characteristics for 315 presidents who governed the Americas between 1945 and 2012. The dataset integrates information from a survey distributed to 911 experts from 26 nationalities, the coding of 13 individual characteristics of the leaders and semi-structured interviews conducted with 21 former presidents in seven countries. 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.  Interestingly, the individual differences of presidents have a stronger explanatory power than complementary explanations of constitutional reforms (i.e., institutional and contextual variables).

                                                                           Working Papers

“Does it Matter who the President is? A Call to Re-Personalize the Presidency.” Under Review.

“Assertive and Risky: The Presidents Who Attempt to Consolidate their Power”

“Former Latin American Presidents: Between Courts and Ballots”

“Are Latin American Voters Exceptional? Electoral Participation Revisited, 1978-2014”

“Women Participation in the Supreme Courts of the Americas” (with Aníbal Pérez-Liñán).