Skip to main content Accessibility help

Community Organizations and Latin America’s Poorest Citizens: Voting, Protesting, and Contacting Government

  • Carew Boulding (a1) and Claudio A. Holzner (a2)


How do Latin America’s poorest citizens participate in politics? This article explores the role that community organizations play in mobilizing individuals into three common modes of political participation: voting, protesting, and contacting government. It argues that community organizations help mobilize poor individuals both through the resources they provide for mobilization and because they serve as sites where political parties target individuals for mobilization. It analyzes survey data from LAPOP surveys for 18 Latin American countries and finds that overall, poor people are just as politically active as more affluent individuals; that involvement in community organizations is a very strong predictor of all types of political participation; and that membership in organizations has an especially strong effect on voting and protesting for poor people. By equalizing levels of political participation across income groups, organizations help erase class-based inequalities in participation that have plagued democracies in the region.



Hide All

Conflicts of interest: Carew Boulding and Claudio Holzner declare none.



Hide All
Álvarez, Sonia, Evelina, Dagnino, and Arturo, Escobar, eds. 1998. Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-visioning Latin American Social Movements. Boulder: Westview Press.
Álvarez, Sonia A., Rubin, Jeffrey W., Millie, Thayer, Baiocchi, Gianpaolo, and Agustín, Laó-Montes, eds. 2017. Beyond Civil Society: Activism, Participation, and Protest in Latin America. Durham: Duke University Press.
Auyero, Javier. 2000. The Logic of Clientelism in Argentina: An Ethnographic Account. Latin American Research Review 35, 3: 5581.
Avritzer, Leonardo. 2002. Democracy and the Public Space in Latin America. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Baiocchi, Gianpaolo. 2001. Participation, Activism, and Politics: The Porto Alegre Experiment and Deliberative Democratic Theory. Politics and Society 29, 1: 4372.
Beaulieu, Emily. 2014. Electoral Protest and Democracy in the Developing World. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bellinger, Paul T., and Moisés, Arce. 2011. Protest and Democracy in Latin America’s Market Era. Political Research Quarterly 64, 3: 688704.
Boulding, Carew. 2010. NGOs and Political Participation in Weak Democracies: Subnational Evidence on Protest and Voter Turnout from Bolivia. Journal of Politics 72, 2: 456–68.
Boulding, Carew. 2014. NGOs, Political Protest, and Civil Society. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Carreras, Miguel, and Castañeda-Angarita, Néstor. 2013. Who Votes in Latin America? A Test of Three Theoretical Perspectives. Comparative Political Studies 47, 8 (July): 10791104.
Collier, Ruth Berins, and Samuel, Handlin, eds. 2009. Reorganizing Popular Politics: Participation and the New Interest Regime in Latin America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL). 2019. Panorama social de América Latina, 2018. Santiago: CEPAL. Accessed December 2019.
Dietz, Henry. 1998. Urban Poverty, Political Participation, and the State: Lima, 1970–1990. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Dunning, Thad. 2009. Direct Action and Associational Participation: Problem-Solving Repertoires of Individuals. In Collier and Handlin 2009. 95131.
Gans-Morse, Jordan, Mazzuca, Sebastián, and Nichter, Simeon. 2014. Varieties of Clientelism: Machine Politics During Elections. American Journal of Political Science 58, 2: 415–32.
Garay, Candelaria. 2009. Associational Linkages to Labor Unions and Political Parties. In Collier and Handlin 2009. 260–90.
Garretón, Manuel Antonio. 2001. Popular Mobilization and the Military Regime in Chile: The Complexities of the Invisible Transition. In Power and Popular Protest: Latin American Social Movements, updated and expanded ed., ed. Eckstein, Susan. Berkeley: University of California Press. 259–77.
Handlin, Samuel. 2016. Mass Organizations and the Durability of Competitive Authoritarian Regimes: The Case of Venezuela. Comparative Political Studies 49, 9: 1238–69.
Holzner, Claudio A. 2004. The End of Clientelism? Strong and Weak Networks in a Mexican Squatter Movement. Mobilization: An International Quarterly 9, 3: 223–40.
Holzner, Claudio A. 2007a. Poverty of Democracy: Neoliberal Reforms and the Political Participation of the Poor in Mexico. Latin American Politics and Society 49, 2: 87122.
Holzner, Claudio A. 2007b. Voz y voto: Participatión política y la calidad de la democracia en México. America Latina Hoy 45: 6987.
Holzner, Claudio A. 2010. Poverty of Democracy: The Institutional Roots of Political Participation in Mexico. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Huber, Evelyne, and Solt, Frederick. 2004. Successes and Failures of Neoliberalism. Latin American Research Review 39, 3: 150–64.
Kurtz, Marcus J. 2004a. Free Market Democracy and the Chilean and Mexican Countryside. Cambridge University Press.
Kurtz, Marcus J. 2004b. The Dilemmas of Democracy in the Open Economy: Lessons from Latin America. World Politics 56, 2: 262302.
Lapegna, Pablo. 2013. Social Movements and Patronage Politics: Processes of Demobilization and Dual Pressure. Sociological Forum 28, 4: 842–63.
Levine, Daniel H. 1992. Popular Voices in Latin American Catholicism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Levine, Daniel H., and José, E. Molina. 2011. The Quality of Democracy in Latin America. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.
Levitsky, Stephen, James, Loxton, Brandon, van Dyck, and Jorge, Domínguez, eds. 2017. Challenges of Party Building in Latin America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lijphart, Arend J. 1997. Unequal Participation: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma. American Political Science Review 91, 1: 114.
Mainwaring, Scott, and Viola, Eduardo. 1984. New Social Movements, Political Culture, and Democracy: Brazil and Argentina in the 1980s. Telos 61: 1752.
Morgan, Jana. 2011. Bankrupt Representation and Party System Collapse. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Nichter, Simeon. 2008. Vote Buying or Turnout Buying? Machine Politics and the Secret Ballot. American Political Science Review 102, 1: 1931.
Oxhorn, Philip D. 1995. Organizing Civil Society: The Popular Sectors and the Struggle for Democracy in Chile. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Piñero, Rafael, Matthew, Rhodes-Purdy, and Fernando, Rosenblatt. 2016. The Engagement Curve: Populism and Political Engagement in Latin America. Latin American Research Review 51, 4: 323.
Piven, Frances Fox, and Cloward, Richard A.. 2000. Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want It That Way. Boston: Beacon Press.
Roberts, Kenneth M. 2002. Party-Society Linkages and Democratic Representation in Latin America. Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies/Revue Canadienne des Études Latino-Américaines et Caraïbes 27, 53: 934.
Roberts, Kenneth M. 2006. Populism, Political Conflict, and Grass-Roots Organization in Latin America. Comparative Politics 38, 2: 127–48.
Rosenstone, Steven J., and John, Mark Hansen. 1993. Mobilization, Participation, and Democracy in America. New York: Macmillan.
Rossi, Federico M. 2017. The Poor’s Struggle for Political Incorporation: The Piquetero Movement in Argentina. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sacouman, Natasha. 2012. Paths of Local Development: Culture, Context, Power, and the Role of Nongovernmental Organizations. Voluntas 23: 899919.
Schaffer, Joby, and Baker, Andy. 2015. Clientelism as Persuasion-Buying: Evidence from Latin America. Comparative Political Studies 48, 9: 10931126.
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, Verba, Sidney, and Brady, Henry E.. 2012. The Unheavenly Chorus: Unequal Political Voice and the Broken Promise of American Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Schneider, Cathy. 1995. Shantytown Protest in Pinochet’s Chile. Temple University Press.
Schussman, Alan, and Soule, Sarah A.. 2005. Process and Protest: Accounting for Individual Protest Participation. Social Forces 84, 2: 10831108.
Shefner, Jonathan. 2008. The Illusion of Civil Society: Democratization and Community Mobilization in Low-Income Mexico. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Silva, Eduardo. 2009. Challenging Neoliberalism in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Silva, Eduardo, and Rossi, Federico, eds. 2018. Reshaping the Political Arena in Latin America: From Resisting Neoliberalism to the Second Incorporation. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Stokes, Susan C., Thad, Dunning, Marcelo, Nazareno, and Brusco, Valeria. 2013. Brokers, Voters, and Clientelism: The Puzzle of Distributive Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Szwarcberg, Mariela. 2012. Uncertainty, Political Clientelism, and Voter Turnout in Latin America: Why Parties Conduct Rallies in Argentina. Comparative Politics 45, 1: 88106.
Szwarcberg, Mariela. 2013. The Microfoundations of Political Clientelism: Lessons from the Argentine Case. Latin American Research Review 48, 2: 3254.
Taylor-Robinson, Michelle M. 2010. Do the Poor Count? Democratic Institutions and Accountability in a Context of Poverty. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Van Cott, Donna Lee. 2005. From Movements to Parties in Latin America: The Evolution of Ethnic Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Verba, Sidney, Nie, Norman H., and Kim, Jae-on. 1978. Participation and Political Equality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Brady, Henry E.. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Wong, Janelle. 2006. Democracy’s Promise: Immigrants and American Civic Institutions. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Yashar, Deborah J. 2005. Contesting Citizenship in Latin America: The Rise of Indigenous Movements and the Postliberal Challenge. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Boulding and Holzner supplementary material

 PDF (504 KB)
504 KB

Community Organizations and Latin America’s Poorest Citizens: Voting, Protesting, and Contacting Government

  • Carew Boulding (a1) and Claudio A. Holzner (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.