Skip to main content Accessibility help

Between perception and reality: the economy and trust in Latin American political institutions

  • Vincenzo Memoli (a1) and Maria Pina Di Pastena (a2)


What is the effect of the economy on political trust among Latin American countries? The few studies that have examined the causal link between the economy and trust in institutions have observed the phenomenon in a synchronic way, adopting information collected at the individual or at the aggregate level. The results shown by these works reveal a citizenry that is dissatisfied, less tolerant towards the political class, and oriented to de-legitimize the political system. In this work, which analyses the political attitudes of citizens in 18 Latin American countries from a longitudinal perspective (1996–2013), the conjoint effect that economic perceptions and the real economy have on political trust is estimated. In particular, by using data from the Latinobarómetro, we show that in contexts where the political regime continues to alternate between democracy and authoritarianism, citizens’ sociotropic understanding of the economy contributes to strengthening the relationship between citizens and political institutions.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Hide All
Alesina, A, Wacziarg, R (2000) The economics of civic trust, in SJ Pharr and RD Putnam (eds). Disaffected Democracies: What’s Troubling the Trilateral Countries?. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 149170.
Almond, GA, Verba, S (1963) The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Anderson, CJ (1995) Blaming the Government: Citizens and the Economy in Five European Democracies. Armonk, NY: ME Sharpe.
André, S (2014) Does trust mean the same for migrants and natives? Testing measurement models of political trust with multi-group confirmatory factor analysis. Social Indicators Research 115(3), 963982.
Armingeon, K, Guthmann, K (2014) Democracy in crisis? The declining support for national democracy in European countries, 2007–2011. European Journal of Political Research 53(2), 423442.
Bargsted, M, Castillo, JC, Somma, NM (2017) Political trust in Latin America, in S Zmerli and T Van der Meer (eds). Handbook of Political Trust. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 395417.
Bellucci, P, Memoli, V (2012) The determinants of democracy satisfaction in Europe, in D Sanders, P Magalhães and G Tóka (eds). Citizens and the European Polity: Mass Attitudes Towards the European and National Polities. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 938.
Berg, L, Hjerm, M (2010) National identity and political trust. Perspectives on European Politics and Society 11(4), 390407.
Boix, C, Stokes, SC (2003) Endogenous democratization. World Politics 55(4), 517549.
Both, JA, Seligson, MA (2009) The Legitimacy Puzzle in Latin American. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bovens, M, Wille, A (2008) Deciphering the dutch drop: ten explanations for decreasing political trust in the Netherlands. International Review of Administrative Sciences 74(2), 283305.
Bratton, M, Gyimah-Boadi, E (2015) Political risks facing African democracies: evidence from Afrobarometer. Working paper no. 157. Retrived 3 january 2018 from
Camp, RA (ed) (2001) Citizen Views of Democracy in Latin America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Cano, W (1999) América Latina: do desenvolvimento ao neoliberalismo, in JL Fiori (ed.). Estados e Moedas no Desenvolvimento das Nações. Petrópolis: Vozes, pp. 287326.
Carbone, GM, Memoli, V, Quartapelle, L (2016) Are lions democrats? The impact of democratization on economic growth in Africa, 1980–2010. Democratization 23(1), 2748.
Castillo, JC, Bargsted, M, Somma, N (2017) Political trust in Latin America, in S Zmerli and T Van der Meer (eds), Handbook of Political Trust. Northampton, Estados Unidos: Edward Elgar Publishing, pp. 395417.
Cerny, BA, Kaiser, HF (1977) A study of a measure of sampling adequacy for factor analytic correlation matrices. Multivariate Behavioral Research 12(1), 4347.
Choi, E, Woo, J (2016) The origins of political trust in East Asian democracies: psychological, cultural, and institutional arguments. Japanese Journal of Political Science 17(3), 410426.
Citrin, J (1974) Comment: the political relevance of trust in government. American Political Science Review 68(3), 973988.
Córdova, A, Seligson, MA (2009) Economic shocks and democratic vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Political Science and Politics 42(4), 673678.
Còrdova, A, Seligson, MA (2010) Economic Shocks and Democratic Vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. Latin American Politics and Society 52(2), 135.
Corral, M (2011) The state of democracy in Latin America: a comparative analysis of the attitudes of elites and citizens. Boletin Pnud & Instituto de Iberoamérica #1. Retrieved 8 January 2018 from
Cruz, JM (2015) Police misconduct and political legitimacy in Central America. Journal of Latin American Studies 47(2), 251283.
Dalton, RJ (2004) Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices: The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Dalton, RJ, Wattenberg, MP (2000) Party change and the democratic process, in RJ Dalton and MP Wattenberg (eds). Parties Without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, pp. 261286.
Denmark, B, Donovan, T, Niemi, RG (2014) Generations and democratic attitudes in advanced democracies. Paper prepared for presentation at the World Congress of the International Political Science Association, July 21, Montreal, Canada.
Denters, B, Gabriel, O, Torcal, M (2007) Political trust in representative democracies: socio-cultural vs. political explanations, in JW van Deth, JR Montero and A Westholm (eds). Citizenship and Involvement in European Democracies: A Comparative Analysis. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 6687.
Diamond, L (1999) Developing Democracy: Towards Consolidation. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Diniz, E (2011) Democracy, state, and industry continuity and change between the Cardoso and Lula administrations. Latin American Perspectives 38(3), 5977.
Dogan, M (1994) Testing the concepts of legitimacy and trust, in M Dogan and A Kazancigil (eds). Comparing Nations: Concepts, Strategies, Substance. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 297313.
Duch, RM, Stevenson, RT (2011) Context and economic expectations: when do voter get it right? British Journal of Political Science 41(1), 131.
Duch, RM, Palmer, HD, Anderson, CJ (2000) Heterogeneity in perceptions of national economic conditions. American Journal of Political Science 44(4), 635652.
Easton, D (1965) A System Analysis of Political Life. New York, NY: Wiley.
Economic Commission for Latin American and Carribean (2012) Poverty continues to fall in Latin America, but still affects 167 million people. Retrieved 8 January 2018 from
Elinder, M, Jordahl, H, Poutvaara, P (2015) Promises, policies and pocketbook voting. European Economic Review 75, 177194.
Epstein, DL, Bates, RH, Goldstone, JA, Kristensen, I, O’Halloran, S (2006) Democratic transitions. American Journal of Political Science 50(3), 551569.
Ergun, SJ, Rivas, F, Rossi, M (2016) Satisfaction with democracy in Latin America: do the characteristics of the political system matter? Working paper no. 0816, Department of Economics – dECON, Granada, Spain.
Ezrow, L, Xezonakis, G (2016) Satisfaction with democracy and voter turnout. Party Politics 22(1), 314.
Fischer, J, van Heerde, J, Tucker, A (2010) Does one trust judgment fit all? Linking theory and empirics. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 12(2), 161188.
FocusEconomics (2016) The latest on the economy of Latin America. Retrieved 8 January 2018 from
Gabriel, OW, Kunz, V, Roßteutscher, S, van Deth, JW (2002) Sozialkapital und Demokratie. Zivilgesellschaftliche Ressourcen im internationalen Vergleich. Vienna: Wiener Universitätsverlag.
Graham, C, Sukhtankar, S (2004) Does economic crisis reduce support for markets and democracy in Latin America? Some evidence from surveys of public opinion and well-being. Journal of Latin American Studies 36(2), 349377.
Grönlund, K, Setälä, M (2007) Political trust, satisfaction and voter turnout. Comparative European Politics 5(4), 400422.
Hacker, JS, Rehm, P, Schlesinger, M (2013) The insecure American: economic experiences, financial worries, and policy attitudes. Perspectives on Politics 11(1), 2349.
Hetherington, MJ (1998) The political relevance of political trust. The American Political Science Review 92(4), 791808.
Hetherington, MJ (1999) The effect of political trust on the presidential vote, 1968-96. The American Political Science Review 93(2), 311326.
Hooghe, M (2011) Why there is basically only one form of political trust. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 13(2), 269275.
Hooghe, M, Zmerli, S (eds) (2011) Political Trust: Why Context Matters. Colchester: ECPR Press.
Huntington, SP (1991) The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Kaase, M, Newton, K (1995) Beliefs in Government. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Kage, R (2013) Does economic insecurity give rise to nationalism? The case of Japan. Paper presented at the ECPR General Conference, September 4–7, Bordeaux.
Kalogeropoulos, A, de Vreese, CH, Albæk, E, Van Dalen, A (2015) The predictors of economic sophistication: media, interpersonal communication and negative economic experiences. European Journal of Communication 30(4), 385403.
Karp, JA, Milazzo, C (2015) Democratic scepticism and political participation. Europe Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 25(1), 97110.
Karp, JA, Banducci, SA, Bowler, S (2003) To know it is to love it? Satisfaction with democracy in the European Union. Comparative Political Studies 36(3), 271292.
Kinder, DR, Adams, GS, Gronke, PW (1989) Economics and politics in the 1984 American Presidential Election. American Journal of Political Science 33(2), 491515.
Klingemann, H-D (1999) Mapping political support in the 1990s: a global analysis, in P Norris (eds). Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 3156.
Kolenikov, S, Angeles, G (2004) The use of discrete data in PCA: theory, simulations, and applications to socioeconomic indices, MEASURE/Evaluation project. Working paper no. 85, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Kotzian, P (2011) Public support for liberal democracy. International Political Science Review 32(1), 2341.
Krauss, E, Nemoto, K, Pekkanen, RJ, Tanaka, A (2016) Party politics, elections and (mis-) trust in Japan. Journal Japan Forum 29(1), 1938.
Kroknes, VF, Jakobsen, TG, Grønning, LM (2016) Economic performance and political trust: the impact of the financial crisis on european citizens. European Societies 17(5), 700723.
Lagos Cruz-Coke, M (2001) Between stability and crisis in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 12(1), 137145.
Levi, M, Stoker, L (2000) Political trust and trustworthiness. Annual Review of Political Science 3, 475507.
Lewis-Beck, MS (2006) Does economics still matter? Econometrics and the vote. The Journal of Politics 68(1), 208212.
Lewis-Beck, MS, Ratto, MC (2013) Economic voting in Latin America: a general model. Electoral Studies 32(3), 489493.
Lewis-Beck, MS, Stegmaier, M (2000) Economic determinants of electoral outcomes. Annual Review of Political Science 3(1), 183219.
Lipset, SM (1959) Some social requisites of democracy: economic development and political legitimacy. The American Political Science Review 53(1), 69105.
Listhaug, O, Ringdal, K (2008) Trust in political institutions, in H Ervasti, T Fridberg, M Hjerm and K Ringdal (eds). Nordic Social Attitudes in A European Perspective. Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, pp. 131151.
Malloy, JM (1987) The politics of transition in Latin America, in MA Seligson and JM Malloy (eds). Authoritarians and Democrats. Regime Transition in Latin America. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, pp. 235258.
Marien, S, Hooghe, M (2011) Does political trust matter? An empirical investigation into the relation between political trust and support for law compliance. European Journal of Political Research 50(2), 267291.
McAllister, I (1999) The economic performance of governments, in P Norris (ed.). Critical Citizens. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, pp. 188202.
Memoli, V (2011) Sostenere la democrazia. Soddisfazione e disaffezione in Europa. Roma: Aracne Editore.
Miller, AH (1974) Political issues and trust in government: 1964-70. American Political Science Review 68(3), 951972.
Mishler, W, Rose, R (2001) What are the origins of political trust? Testing institutional and cultural theories in post-communist societies. Comparative Political Studies 34(1), 3062.
Moreira, P (2015) The ultimatum game and the nature of the distance of the economic agents. Skyline Business Journal 10(1), 916,
Morris, SD, Blake, CH (2010) Corruption and Politics in Latin America: National and Regional Dynamics. Boulder and London: Rienner.
Neundorf, A (2010) Democracy in transition: a micro perspective on system change in post-socialist societies. The Journal of Politics 72(4), 10961108.
Norris, P (ed.) (1999) Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Governance. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Norris, P (2011) Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nunnaly, JC (1978) Psychometric Theory. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
O’Donnell, G, Schmitter, PC, Whitehead, L (1986) Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Latin America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Offe, C (2009) Las democracias liberales: características generales y deficiencias actuales de calidad, in ML Marquez Restrepo, EP Buelvas and GH Vasquez (eds). Democracia Y Ciudadania: Problemas, Promesas Y Experiencias En La Region Andina. Bogotá, DC: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javerian, pp 2140.
Page, BI, Shapiro, RY (1992) The Rational Public. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Pitlik, H, Rode, M (2016) Individualistic values, institutional trust, and interventionist attitudes. WIFO Working paper no. 515, Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, Wien, Austria.
Power, TJ, Cyr, JM (2009) Mapping political legitimacy in Latin America. International Social Science Journal 60(196), 253272.
Quaranta, M, Martini, S (2016) Easy come, easy go? Economic performance and satisfaction with democracy in southern europe in the last three decades. Social Indicators Research 13(2), 659680.
Quaranta, M, Memoli, V (2016) Economic evaluations, economic freedom and democracy support in Africa. Paper presented at IPSA Congress, July 11–13, Poznan, Poland.
Rothstein, B (2008) Creating political legitimacy: electoral democracy versus quality of government. QoG Working Paper Series 2008:2, The Quality of Government Institute, Göteborg, Sweden.
Rothstein, B (2011) Quality of Government: Corruption, Social Trust and Inequality in International Perspective. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Rothstein, B, Stolle, D (2008) The state and social capital: an institutional theory of generalized trust. Comparative Politics 40(4), 441459.
Sarsfield, R, Echegaray, F (2006) Opening the black box: how satisfaction with democracy and its perceived efficacy affect regime preference in Latin America. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 18(2), 153173.
Segovia Arancibia, C (2008) Political Trust in Latin America. University of Michigan: Unpublished PhD dissertation.
Seligson, MA (2007) The rise of populism and the left in Latin America. Journal of Democracy 18(3), 8195.
Seligson, MA (ed.) (2008) Challenges to Democracy in Latin America and the Caribbean: Evidence from the Americas Barometer 2006-07. Nashville, TN: Vanderbit University,
Seligson, MA, Smith, AE, Zechmeister, EJ (2012) The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2012: Towards Equality of Opportunity. Nashville, TN: Vanderbit University,
Singer, MM, Carlin, RE (2013) Context counts: the election cycle, development, and the nature of economic voting. The Journal of Politics 75(3), 730742.
Smith, PH (2005) Democracy in Latin America: Political Change in Comparative Perspective. Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press.
Tavits, M (2007) Clarity of responsibility and corruption. American Journal of Political Science 51(1), 218229.
Torcal, M, Bargsted, M (2015) Confianza política en Europa y América Latina: Un estudio comparado de niveles y causa, in L Paramio (ed.). Desafección pólitica y gobernabilidad. Un reto político. Madrid: IELAT/CAF/Marcial Pons, pp. 201227.
Turper, S, Aarts, K (2017) Political trust and sophistication: taking measurement seriously. Social Indicator Research 130(1), 415434.
Van der Meer, T, Dekker, P (2011) Trustworthy states, trusting citizens? A multilevel study into objective and subjective determinants of political trust, in S Zmerli and M Hooghe (eds). Political Trust. Why Contest Matters. Colchester: ECPR Press, pp. 95116.
van Gent, WPC, Mamadouh, VD, van der Wusten, HH (2013) Political reactions to the euro crisis: cross-national variations and rescaling issues in elections and popular protests. Eurasian Geography and Economics 54(2), 135161.
Weyland, K (2003) Economic voting reconsidered: crisis and charisma in the election of Hugo Chavez. Comparative Political Studies 47(7), 822848.
Wong, TK-y, Wan, P-s, Hsiao, H-HM (2011) The bases of political trust in six asian societies: institutional and cultural explanations compared. International Political Science Review 32(3), 263281.
Wroe, A (2016) Economic insecurity and political trust in the United States. American Politics Research 44(1), 131163.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Memoli and Di Pastena Dataset


Between perception and reality: the economy and trust in Latin American political institutions

  • Vincenzo Memoli (a1) and Maria Pina Di Pastena (a2)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed