I had an interesting Twitter discussion with J.F. String (@jf_string) and Roque Planas (@RoqPlanas) with others joining in. It centered on the punditry about Venezuela, and excessive use of "charisma" as an explanatory variable.
The question about "charisma" is interesting. Hugo Chávez is clearly charismatic, but in and of itself that doesn't tell us anything. How do we measure charisma? It gets tossed around all the time to explain half of what Chávez does, and what his successors can't do (and I am plenty guilty of this). The same was true with countless debates about Fidel and Raúl Castro.
From a social science perspective, however, this gets tricky. There are lots of current Latin American presidents who could be deemed charismatic, but how do we measure that? Is Chávez a 10 on a scale of 10, while Rafael Correa is a 7? How do we determine that, and what does it tell us about what they can or cannot accomplish politically?
The prevailing hypothesis is that the more charisma you have, the more unified you can keep your political movement. Fair enough, but it actually tell us almost nothing even if we can define the term. Charisma is not the only factor involved, so we don't know how much charisma itself matters. Further, it tells us nothing about degree. How much more unified do you become with x charisma?
So, I have lots of questions but not so many answers. It is fine to argue that Hugo Chavez is more charismatic than Nicolas Maduro, and therefore Maduro will have a more difficult time holding the diverse coalition together, as long as we recognize that this is imprecise and tells us very little about specific political outcomes.