Voter choices in Latin America have structural roots that are similar to what is observed in other regions, but these structures are weaker and more fluid than in more established democracies. In particular, while cleavages emerge in the average Latin American country and voters’ choices vary across demographic traits, issues, ideologies, and partisanship, these cleavages are weaker than in Western Europe and the United States. These cleavages are particularly weak in countries where parties do not take ideologically distinct positions from each other and instead emphasize clientelism, which suggests that the overall weakness of these cleavages in the hemisphere reflects the weak commitment of political parties to programmatic competition. Elections in Latin America are strongly shaped by government performance, especially economic trends, but these forms of accountability are weakened in countries where the party system makes it hard to identify the degree to which any specific party is able to dominate the policy process or where identifying a credible alternative to the incumbent is difficult. Thus, while voters are trying to use elections to hold politicians accountable and to ensure that their policy preferences are represented, the weaknesses of Latin America’s party systems often make this difficult.
Matthew M. Singer and Gabriela Ramalho Tafoya
Whether as a consequence of colonialism or more recent international migration, ethnic diversity has become a prominent feature of many contemporary democracies. Given the importance of ethnicity in structuring people’s identities, scholars have sought to incorporate ethnicity in their models of people’s political behavior. Studies focusing on individual support for group interests among ethnic minority members find that higher socioeconomic status generally leads to a reduced emphasis on ethnicity in forming individual political opinions. However, this relationship is often considerably weaker among ethnic minorities with frequent experiences of discrimination, pessimistic assessments of equal opportunities in a country, and social pressures from group members to comply with group norms. Research also shows that, in comparison to majority populations, members of ethnic minorities are generally less active in politics, more likely to use contentious forms of political action, and support left-wing political parties that promote minority interests. Key explanations of differences between ethnic minorities and majorities in Western democracies focus on the importance of individual and group resources as well as political empowerment via representation in policymaking institutions, usually enabled by higher shares of minority populations within electoral districts.