Date of Award

Spring 4-24-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Political Science

First Advisor

Kate Graney

Second Advisor

Gustavo Venturelli

Third Advisor

Abel Arango


Across the globe, country after country is seeing populist movements gain power and even win office. When these populist ideas are adopted and utilized by authoritarian-leaning leaders, democratic erosion and the disrespect of human rights become a real threat. For my thesis, I will be looking to the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, as an example of this dangerous combination of populism and authoritarianism. Under his leadership, the country has achieved the highest rate of incarceration per capita in the world at 1.7%, he stacked the courts with loyalists that allowed him to run for a previously unconstitutional second term, and he shaped the legislature to allow his party a supermajority. Despite all of this, Bukele is incredibly popular. He enjoys a nearly 90% approval rating, much of which is derived from the drop in violence and gang presence in El Salvador. He is an authoritarian without the need for the military or election meddling. Instead, all Bukele needs right now is his popularity and social media presence.

I first contend with existing literature on populism and authoritarianism to formulate my own definition of populist authoritarianism. I will then be looking at Bukele’s social media presence, specifically on X, as evidence that he is a populist authoritarian. It is his platform of choice; he posts multiple times each day and interacts daily with supporters and critics alike. I hope that my analysis will be a helpful guide into how populist authoritarians use platforms like X to spread their message, and what Bukele’s presence and popularity might mean for democracy in the country and in the region.