Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Keeping track of political culture

Latinobarómetro, like it's cousin Afrobarometer is a large scale research project to measure public opinion in a specific part of the world. The Economist just wrote about the most recent Latinobarómetro. What can we learn about Mexico's political culture?

Neither Trumpian nor Brexiteer
THE year since The Economist last published the results of the wide-ranging Latinobarómetro survey of Latin American public opinion has been an eventful one…

Latin pragmatism looks like a welcome contrast to the rise in support for fringe candidates and causes in Europe and the United States. But this year’s Latinobarómetro poll suggest that Latin Americans are no more content with the status quo than are Brexit-voting Britons or Trump-drunk Americans. The proportion of Latin Americans who think the elites govern in their own interests is on average 73%, its highest level in 12 years. For the first time, the share of people who say their countries are going backwards is bigger than that of people who think they are progressing…

Economic optimism has been hurt by six successive years of deceleration after the end of the global commodities boom. Latin Americans’ satisfaction with the performance of their economies is at its lowest level since 2004. Unemployment is the main economic worry…

Where disgust with the shenanigans of political leaders is strongest, support for democracy has dropped…

But that does not mean Latin Americans are ready to abandon democracy for something else. Overall, 54% say it is better than any other system, a proportion that has not changed much since 1995. Instead, they are channelling their discontent into activism. Outrage over corruption has inspired… thousands of Mexicans have protested against official impunity…

Changing attitudes towards violence are evidence of greater maturity and more assertiveness among ordinary citizens, argues Marta Lagos, Latinobarómetro’s director. Although Latin Americans say that violence from street crime is the most common sort, the most damaging to their country, they think, is domestic violence. The priority people give to domestic violence is new, Ms Lagos believes (although the question has not been directly posed before). It suggests that Latin Americans are beginning to challenge the culture of machismo, which is pervasive in some countries. Women in particular are less willing to suffer in silence. This represents a “huge cultural change”, says Ms Lagos.

Although Latin Americans have little appetite for the dictators of the past, new types of anti-democratic politics could emerge. Unless elected politicians offer answers to crime, low growth, inequality and corruption, less democratically minded leaders may provide them instead.

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