Extremism and Polarization: How Income Inequality Affects Legislative Behavior in Brazil

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-1642-5444
Buscatto Medeiros, Danilo, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gingerich, Daniel, AS-Dept of Politics, University of Virginia

Extreme policy positions are not a new phenomenon in politics. Yet there is a growing concern among intellectuals, scholars, pundits and citizens from many democracies with what seems to be rising extremism, and with polarization at both the mass and the electoral level. Extremism and polarization can lead to setbacks for social justice and minorities’ well-being, and to democratic instability. However, the causes of extreme policy positions and polarization in legislatures are still up for debate, especially in the Global South and other developing democracies. Income inequality is one of the most important exogenous factors associated with extremism and polarization. Building upon the scholarship that investigates whether and how the distribution of income influences position-taking, this dissertation asks to what extent economic inequality affects the preferences of voters and politicians, and whether it influences extremism and polarization in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies. Incentives and constraints fostered by specific political institutions are taken into account.
Each of the chapters, written in the format of stand alone essays, provides three different approaches to evaluate legislative behavior in Brazil. The first essay consists in an analysis of legislator extremism leveraging variation across cases. It investigates how differences in socioeconomic features of representative’s electoral support bases influences their behavior in the legislature. The second essay is an assessment of changes in individual behavior given pressures from changing voter and party preferences. Focusing on a comparison of individual representatives over time, I ask: are legislators becoming less moderate? If so, what is leading to this behavior, the radicalization of party leadership or variation in voter preferences? The third essay approach consists in investigating the relationship between the time series of the top income shares and political polarization measured at the national level in Brazil's two democratic republics.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Extremism, Polarization, Income Inequality, Legislative Behavior, Brazilian Politics
Sponsoring Agency:
CAPES, Ministry of Education of Brazil
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