CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Post-Doc Caitlin Andrews-Lee Published in Journal of Politics in Latin America

January 29th, 2020

The Power of Charisma: Investigating the Neglected Citizen-Politician Linkage
by: Caitlin Andrews-Lee

Charisma has long been considered a powerful tool for leaders worldwide to rise to greatness. Yet we have given less attention to the way in which charismatic leaders develop deep, unmediated emotional bonds with their followers. I propose a compact theory that explains how charismatic attachments form, overwhelm alternative linkage types, and facilitate the development of powerful and potentially enduring political movements. To illustrate the theory, I turn to Hugo Chávez’s Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. Firstly, the analysis of a 2007 survey from the Latin American Public Opinion Project demonstrates the disproportionate influence of charisma on citizens’ attachments to Bolivarianism relative to competing factors. Next, six original focus groups conducted with Bolivarian followers in 2016 illustrate the mechanisms underlying the followers’ surprisingly resilient loyalty, not only to the leader but also to his overarching movement. The results suggest that affective political attachments can help sustain charismatic movements after their founders disappear.

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