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date: 27 January 2022

Political Culture in Latin Americalocked

Political Culture in Latin Americalocked

  • Elizabeth J. ZechmeisterElizabeth J. ZechmeisterDepartment of Political Science, Vanderbilt University
  •  and Daniela Osorio MichelDaniela Osorio MichelDepartment of Political Science, Vandebilt University

Summary

Political culture in Latin America leans democratic and participatory. Even amid institutional backsliding in the early 21st century, most leaders assume office and claim their mandate via elections. However, in the face of significant governance challenges, reservations regarding democracy and democratic processes are on the rise. In 2014, 68% of individuals in the average Latin American country expressed support for democracy. Five years later, in 2019, that figure was 58%. Support for state-led redistribution declined during this period as well. In brief, there are signs that the public is moving away from a social democratic orientation.

Generalizations about political culture risk overlooking significant heterogeneity in Latin American beliefs and inclinations. Survey data, especially from comparative projects, permit assessments of the region’s political culture across time, countries, and population subgroups. Analyses of these data paint an appropriately nuanced portrait of Latin American political culture. Support for core democratic values is highest in the Southern Cone countries of Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. Support for democratic institutions and processes is far lower in countries that have experienced recent instability and governance challenges, including Honduras and Peru. In Latin America, the young tend to be less committed to democratic institutions and processes. Those in rural areas tend to be more inclined to engage in local politics. Those who are poor tend to perceive themselves as less capable of understanding key national issues. Finally, women tend to be politically more conservative.

How people in the region believe politics ought to be organized and function—that is, political culture in Latin America—matters. This is because the public’s inclinations to express core democratic values and to engage in the system shape political outcomes. Where individuals lack confidence in the democratic state, they are less prone to support it. Further, they are more likely to issue demands, and to look for leadership, outside of formal political channels. The comparatively low and decreasing levels of support for democracy place Latin America at a crossroads. Failure to meet key governance challenges—corruption, inequality, crime—could accelerate declines in confidence and interest in participatory democracy, to the detriment of political culture and democratic consolidation in Latin America.

Subjects

  • Political Behavior
  • Political Values, Beliefs, and Ideologies
  • Public Opinion

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