Why do democracies survive or break down? In this paper, we return to this classic question with an empirical focus on Latin America from 1945 to 2005. Our argument deviates from the quantitative literature and a good part of the qualitative literature on democratic survival and breakdown. We argue that structural variables such as the level of development and inequalities have not shaped prospects for democratic survival in Latin America. Nor, contrary to findings in some of the literature, has economic performance affected the survival of competitive regimes. Instead, we focus on the regional political environment and on actors’ normative preferences about democracy and dictatorship and their policy radicalism or moderation. We argue that 1) a higher level of development did not increase the likelihood of democratic survival in Latin America over this long time; 2) if actors have a normative preference for democracy, it is more likely to survive; and 3) policy moderation facilitates democratic survival.