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The study of political participation in Latin America has, until very recently, been too narrowly conceived by social scientists, focusing largely on elites and violence. The former is illustrated by studies of the military (Lieuwen, 1961, 1966; Johnson, 1964; Horowitz, 1967; Fagen and Cornelius, 1970; Schmitter, 1973), the Church (Dillon Soares, 1967; Solari, 1967; Petersen, 1970; Suchlicki, 1972), industrialists (Cardoso, 1967; Polit, 1968; Petras and Cook, 1973), and large landholders (Whetten, 1948; Carroll, 1966; Feder, 1971; Cockroft, 1972). Attention to violent forms of political participation is found in studies of revolution and the military coup d'état (Payne, 1965; Needler, 1968; Von Lazar and Kaufman, 1969; Moreno and Mitrani, 1971; Kohl and Litt, 1974). Those studies that have centered on nonviolent mass participation (Horowitz, 1970) have generally been limited to elections (for example, Martz, 1967; Petras, 1970), political parties (Fitzgibbon, 1957; Ciria, 1974), and labor unions (Payne, 1965; Angell, 1972; Erickson et al., 1974). As a result of the narrowness of these approaches, we have only a partial image of the faces of the Latin American citizen political activity; we have underestimated the scope of such activity and have failed to investigate its many forms.
Despite certain early efforts to interpret Mexico as a pluralist constitutional democracy, or democracy-in-the-making (Scott 1959; Tucker 1957), scholars today almost universally agree that the political system of Mexico is authoritarian. The trappings of Mexico's liberal constitution and elections notwithstanding, Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) serves to integrate the polity under the highly centralized control of a single institution that dominates access to all public office. At the apex of the PRI is the Mexican president, who not only chooses his own successor but controls access to the PRI's candidate lists for all other public offices and therefore dominates both the party and the congress. In sum, as Coleman and Davis argue, Mexico fits the ideal type of authoritarian political organization because “decisions are made almost exclusively by the ruling elite rather than by democratic, pluralist processes” and because “there are severe restrictions placed upon political mobilization” (1976, 195).
In recent years there has been an upsurge in what has come to be called “quantitative history.” Despite the enthusiasm for this approach, however, some of its critics have validly claimed that its payoffs have all too often failed to live up to its promises of new and more accurate findings. Perhaps a central reason for this criticism is that although the quantitative historian may have been sufficiently thorough in collecting his data, he has often failed to apply to them the sensitive techniques of modern data analysis. Rather, he has continued to rely on more traditional methods of description such as means and percentages. As a result, quantitative works are often long on tables and short on analysis.
Insurgency has largely subsided in Central America, but the academic debate over the causes of the violence in the 1980s waxes hotter than ever. As scholars, we have an obligation to subject our theories to the acid test of reality. As individuals interested in the policy process, we must evaluate the outcomes of those policies, even though they are sometimes based on faulty readings of our theories. The increasingly rich body of literature and data available on Central America compels observers to move away from the speculation that dominated early scholarship on the region and toward serious empirical tests of our theories. In doing so, scholars will be in a position to evaluate the policies pursued by the United States and various Central American governments. My article in this journal on land tenure in El Salvador attempted to address both theory and policy with new data (Seligson 1995). Judging by the reactions of Martin Diskin and Jeffery Paige, the conclusions that I drew have succeeded in stimulating a rich debate.
Inequality in the distribution of land has long been viewed as the social dynamite that has set off many peasant uprisings in the twentieth century. The most extensive study to date of modern guerrilla wars in Latin America, by Timothy Wickham-Crowley, found land tenure and the overall agrarian structure to be a common element in upheaval in Cuba, Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, and El Salvador (Wickham-Crowley 1992, 306–7). Samuel Huntington's classic book on development and stability articulated the explanation for these agrarian insurrections: “Where the conditions of landownership are equitable and provide a viable living for the peasant, revolution is unlikely. Where they are inequitable and where the peasant lives in poverty and suffering, revolution is likely, if not inevitable, unless the government takes prompt measures to remedy these conditions” (Huntington 1968, 375).
Costa Rica has been the real success story of Latin American democracy. For the last half-century, this small country has held free, fair, and competitive elections, experienced regular rotation of rulers and parties, and rarely violated human or civil rights. Consistent voter turnout rates of 80 percent and a firmly entrenched two-party system appeared to be unalterable features of the electoral landscape since the late 1950s. While democracy still seems securely entrenched, the 1998 elections brought a major shift. Abstention increased by 50 percent, and votes for minor parties in the legislature doubled, reaching one-quarter of the electorate. This research note presents evidence that the shift is the result of long-term forces, using cross-sectional survey data collected from 1978 to 1999. Notable declines in the legitimacy of the political system explain the drop in turnout and the rise of minor parties. The study then attempts to explain why this decline may have occurred.
Coups d’état, once a common end for democracies in the Americas, have declined sharply in recent years. This article investigates whether overall public support for coups is also in decline. Examining 21 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean from 2004 to 2014 helps to evaluate two alternative theses on democratization: Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán’s 2013 normative regime preferences theory, which inquires (but does not test) whether public opinion can signal to elites a reluctance or willingness to support a coup; and classic modernization theory (Inglehart 1988; Inglehart and Welzel 2005). We find a substantively meaningful effect of democratic attitudes on coup support and a weak effect for national wealth, from which we infer that evolving elite values and preferences are paralleled at the mass level and that together, those two trends play a stronger role in the consolidation of democratic regimes than does modernization.
Historical evidence suggests that bad economic times often mean bad times for democracy, but prior research has given us little guidance on how this process may work. What economic conditions are most threatening, and how might they weaken consolidating democracies? This article uses the AmericasBarometer conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) to answer these questions by focusing on core attitudes for the consolidation of democracy. We use survey data at the level of the individual and economic data at the country level to help detect democratic vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study finds that conditions of low levels of economic development, low economic growth, and high levels of income inequality increase those vulnerabilities substantially, but the effects are not uniform across individuals. Some groups, especially the young and the poor, are particularly vulnerable to some antidemocratic appeals.
People's enduring psychological tendencies are reflected in their traits. Contemporary research on personality establishes that traits are rooted largely in biology, and that the central aspects of personality can be captured in frameworks, or taxonomies, focused on five trait dimensions: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. In this article, we integrate a five-factor view of trait structure within a holistic model of the antecedents of political behavior, one that accounts not only for personality, but also for other factors, including biological and environmental influences. This approach permits attention to the complex processes that likely underlie trait effects, and especially to possible trait–situation interactions. Primary tests of our hypotheses draw on data from a 2006 U.S. survey, with supplemental tests introducing data from Uruguay and Venezuela. Empirical analyses not only provide evidence of the value of research on personality and politics, but also signal some of the hurdles that must be overcome for inquiry in this area to be most fruitful.
While the world is focused on the economic impact of the financial and credit meltdown, what might be its impact on politics? In well-established democracies, probably not more than elections lost by incumbent parties seen as having mismanaged the economy. But what of consolidating democracies that predominate in the developing world, where some forecasts expect the crisis to hit the poor especially hard? This article uses AmericasBarometer survey data from Latin America and the Caribbean drawn on the eve of the crisis to project how it might affect democracy in the region.
The chapters in this book are focused on two broad themes. First, should democracy be promoted? Second, how should democracy be promoted? This paper asks and attempts to answer a third question: Does democracy promotion work? In many ways, this is really the prior question, because if democracies cannot be promoted, if their emergence, consolidation and breakdown are entirely random, or follow a pattern that cannot be altered by human intervention, then the prior questions are, after all, moot.
In the field of democracy studies, there is perhaps no more controversial and unsettled question than that of how democracies emerge, consolidate and breakdown. The literature is vast, growing in important ways with each passing month. Consider, for example, the role of economic development, just one of the many factors that have been thought to be important for the emergence and/or stability of democracy. The classical literature dates back to Lipset, who found empirical support for the notion that higher levels of economic development were strongly linked to the transition from dictatorship to democracy (Lipset 1959). Over the years some scholars confirmed this finding, whereas others refuted it. By the mid 1990s, however, larger databases with more sophisticated statistical techniques seemed to demonstrate that Lipset was indeed correct (Lewis-Beck and Burkhart 1994; Muller 1997).
In democracies, public opinion matters. Political scientists have for several decades pored over the results of public opinion surveys attempting to determine which attitudes and behaviors may be critical for the emergence and maintenance of stable democracy. In the 1970s, however, almost all of Latin America was caught in the grip of dictatorial rule, and carrying out public opinion surveys was dangerous for interviewers and respondents alike. At that time, one of the few places in the region where surveys of public opinion could be carried out openly and safely was Costa Rica, a country that had been democratic since the early 1950s and that had enjoyed a democratic tradition for most of the twentieth century.
It was in Costa Rica that the authors of this volume first began their collaboration, a relationship that has continued and prospered for more than thirty-five years. As graduate students studying at different universities, we had been drawn independently to Costa Rica to write our dissertations. Mitchell Seligson had served there in the Peace Corps and returned to conduct a survey of the political attitudes and behaviors of the peasantry funded by the Social Science Research Council. John Booth went to Costa Rica under the auspices of the Latin American Teaching Fellowship program to conduct a survey for Costa Rica's community development agency (Dirección Nacional de Desarrollo Comunal). During our shared time in Costa Rica, we developed the foundation of a lasting personal and intellectual friendship.
Once we determined (using the factor analysis and structural equation models) the complete six-dimensional structure of political legitimacy, it became necessary to engage in a data reduction exercise in order to continue with the rest of this research project. That is, given the large number of variables that defined the various aspects of political legitimacy in this dataset, it would have been unwieldy to attempt to employ them all in examining the sources and consequences of legitimacy. Moreover, from a theoretical perspective, we argue that the items being studied do in fact form dimensions. We therefore did not want to work with individual variables but only with summary indices of variables reflecting those dimensions.
This required us to confront the problem of missing data. Virtually all surveys include respondents who fail to answer at least some of the questions put to them, whether from unwillingness to respond, lack of sufficient information to respond, or inability to comprehend the question. One solution to this often vexing problem is to use the “listwise” deletion technique, in which a missing response to any one survey question results in that entire case (respondent) being deleted from the analysis. A second technique, “pairwise” deletion, removes the case only when one or both of the values are missing for any pair of correlations. Both approaches assume that missing data occur completely at random and that there are no patterns or biases in what is missing. But we actually know that assumption is rarely true in practice.
We began this book with a puzzle, and we conclude by proffering a solution to it that works for eight Latin American nations. In Chapter 1 we wondered why so few advanced industrial democracies have broken down even though a raft of studies has both argued that legitimacy is critical for the survival of democracy and shown empirically that levels of legitimacy are declining in many countries. This anomaly between legitimacy theory and its failure to predict outcomes led us to speculate either that the theory has been faulty or partly so, or that the measurement of legitimacy has been at least partly faulty, or both. We set out to solve this puzzle by designing a research project that would, we hoped, allow us to understand the issues and point toward some clear solutions. In successive chapters we drew upon the work of others and added some ideas and findings of our own that allowed us to lay out partial answers to the puzzles. We conclude by reviewing what we have found (and how we have found it) so that we can, finally, offer our best solution to the legitimacy puzzle.
Our research design built upon but also differed from prior work in this area. Until recently most studies of legitimacy had been conducted in advanced industrial democracies. This does not reflect some sort of failure of the discipline.
So far we have shown that political legitimacy in eight Latin American countries is multidimensional, but we do not yet know the sources of these legitimacy norms. Among the many aspects of society, politics, and individual traits, which factors contribute to higher or lower levels of the six dimensions of legitimacy we have identified? This deceptively simple question has interested legitimacy theorists, but empirical work to date, limited by the lack of a comprehensive multidimensional view of legitimacy, has not yet tested a comprehensive explanation. The goal of this chapter is to seek to answer this question and to provide the most comprehensive explanation possible for the eight countries studied here.
Prior research, cited extensively in Chapter 1, has pointed to three main sources of legitimacy norms: the macrosocial performance of the political system, individual attributes of citizens, and citizens' attitudes and experiences at the microsocial level. The better governments and their economic systems perform, the argument goes, the more likely it is that citizens will evaluate them positively (Hayen and Bratton 1992; Pritchett and Kaufmann 1998; Diamond 2008). On this point there has been much research that has tended to distinguish between longer-term and shorter-term performance. Longer-term factors supposedly influence, to use Easton's term, “diffuse support,” while shorter-term performance has a greater effect on more “specific support.” However, while that research has been skillful and often comparative, much of it has not clearly distinguished among multiple legitimacy dimensions and their various predictors.