Political sociologists have spent more time investigating how charismatic leaders gain support than how they lose it. Which factors drive voters to abandon a charismatic leader? Is defection associated with social and political identity, economic circumstances, democratic commitments, interactions between these, or other factors? In this paper, I use the case of Juan “Evo” Morales and Bolivia to explore how support for a charismatic leader erodes. A mixed-methods approach enables a descriptive portrait of loyalists and defectors from nationally representative survey data, along with an analysis of how voters describe their political allegiances from in-depth interviews across two summers of fieldwork in La Paz. The study finds that in the case of Evo and Bolivia, loyalty to and defection from a charismatic leader are affected by education, ethnic identity, and sex. Using these findings, the paper shows how responses to charismatic counter-roles are shaped by voter positionality. Differences in voters’ interpretation of a given situation depend partly on identity. Support for a charismatic leader is not necessarily support for charisma, and voters defect for various reasons, including some cited by other voters as grounds for their persistent loyalty.

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