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Abstract

By replying to Kurt Weyland’s (2020) comparative study of populism, we revisit optimistic perspectives on the health of American democracy in light of existing evidence. Relying on a set-theoretical approach, Weyland concludes that populists succeed in subverting democracy only when institutional weakness and conjunctural misfortune are observed jointly in a polity, thereby conferring on the United States immunity to democratic reversal. We challenge this conclusion on two grounds. First, we argue that the focus on institutional dynamics neglects the impact of the structural conditions in which institutions are embedded, such as inequality, racial cleavages, and changing political attitudes among the public. Second, we claim that endogeneity, coding errors, and the (mis)use of Boolean algebra raise questions about the accuracy of the analysis and its conclusions. Although we are skeptical of crisp-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis as an adequate modeling choice, we replicate the original analysis and find that the paths toward democratic backsliding and continuity are both potentially compatible with the United States.

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