Americas Barometer: One in four Americans does not believe that democracy is better than other forms of government | International


Bukele participates in an independence day ceremony at the Presidential Palace on September 15.
Bukele participates in an independence day ceremony at the Presidential Palace on September 15.Reuters

25% of citizens in America do not agree that democracy is better than any other form of government, according to data from the latest Barometer of the Americas, carried out every two years by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (Lapop) of Vanderbilt University. The figure is lower in the north of the continent, and also in Uruguay, Costa Rica or Chile. But it is also much higher in Haiti (49% of those consulted do not believe that it is the best system, while 33% strongly disagree), Honduras (37%) or Paraguay (35%). The survey brings up key questions that reveal the weakest points of the democratic system on the continent, starting with the credibility it maintains among its citizens. The majority, it is true, continue to support democracy. But enthusiasm is low (the country with the most fervent believers in democracy as a superior system is Uruguay: 44%), and disenchantment increases in all countries where it can be compared with previous cycles.

Honduras, Colombia, Peru, and Argentina concentrate the highest growth in the percentage of citizens who declare themselves quite or strongly in disagreement with democratic superiority. In the first, the value has almost tripled since 2008, possibly in parallel with the institutional deterioration that the country has suffered. But more striking are the increases in the next three on the list, marked by growing polarization (especially in Colombia and Argentina) or institutional instability (which has dominated a Peru with four heads of state in the last 18 months). This group is joined by Brazil, which, along with Colombia, faces crucial elections next year in deeply divided social environments. Peru and Argentina have just emerged from their own bumpy voting journeys.

To explain this widespread decline, Noam Lupu, a professor and associate director of Lapop at Vanderbilt, cautions that there are many factors at play. “It seems to me that a key factor is the corruption scandals of recent years, starting with the cases related to Oderbrecht, going through vaccination scandals against Covid, and recently including the Pandora Papers scandals,” he adds. In the survey itself, it is observed, in fact, that more than three-fifths of the citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean consider that a majority, almost all or all politicians are corrupt. To this generalized perspective, which is shared with greater intensity by those people who have reached a higher educational level, the personal one is added: there is a higher declared victimization of solicitation of bribes compared to the previous wave of the survey (2018-19), which was it accentuates among women, young people, those with the highest income and education.

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Given this evolution, it is not surprising that the proportion of the population that in Latin America and the Caribbean would be willing to accept a coup from the executive during a crisis has increased. El Salvador is particularly concerned here, where this tolerance reaches the majority (51%), undoubtedly marked by the still high popularity of a leader like Nayib Bukele, whose action towards the legislative and judicial powers has been one of intimidation or directly progressive disarticulation. institutional.

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From a more structural perspective, Colombia (where a third of the citizens would tolerate an exclusive Government of the Executive) and Peru (where the figure rises to 45%) seem to constitute a definite couple that goes outside the general line in the region, which correlates disagreement with democracy and its degree of functionality in its broadest definition: the one that includes all kinds of freedoms, and not just voting. In a certain sense, it is to be expected that Nicaragua, Honduras or Haiti itself have a more eroded vision of systems that are no longer democratic although they disguise themselves as such, as is the case of the Ortega regime and the recent vote in favor of the Ortega opposition exiled or in prison, or whose dysfunction is such that it ends up with a president assassinated, as happened in Haiti just a few months ago. Similarly, it is natural that where democracy is more open, support for the concept is higher (as in Uruguay, Chile or Costa Rica). In between is a whole range of grays in which, as a general rule, the openness of the system goes hand in hand with less disagreement towards its theoretical superiority. But Colombia and Peru break this dynamic: they have more dissatisfied citizens than might be expected due to their (intermediate and imperfect, but in no case non-existent) degree of openness.

It is not surprising that both nations have starred in some of the most rebellious episodes in the region in recent months. The cycle of Peruvian instability has not ended with the election of the outsider Pedro Castillo, who in just one hundred days has had to change half of his Government and for whom today one of the key support pillars in his election is cracking, represented in the legislature by the extreme left of Peru Libre who feels apparently betrayed. In Colombia, the protests of November 2019 had a rebirth in April and May 2021, aggravated by a context that combines the perception of police abuse during the marches, a serious loss of purchasing power in the lower-middle layers of urban workers and an erosion of credibility of a government with low approval rates. All these elements pave the way to the double legislative and presidential election of 2022 in which, for now, the only clear candidacy is that of the anti-establishment from the left that represents the current senator, former mayor of Bogotá and even before ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro, who aspires to articulate all systemic discontent under the same umbrella.

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The generational dimension

Petro is more successful than his rivals among the younger generation, as was Pedro Castillo in Peru, and it is not by chance that the lack of enthusiasm for democracy is more acute among the younger generations. It is difficult to separate distrust of specific aspects of current functioning from a position that rejects outright any format of democracy, but in the case of the new generations there are indications to think that we are more before the first than the second.

On the one hand, mistrust towards the hard core of the democratic system (the electoral process) is notably higher among people aged 35 and under. A minority in America thinks that votes are always counted “correctly and fairly” in their country. This includes both full and imperfect democracies, failed or authoritarian drifting regimes. The differences are important: according to Lapop, “69% of Uruguayans believe that votes are always counted correctly, but only 18% in Colombia, Guyana and Jamaica agree”. These last three countries would fall into the category of more or less imperfect democracies, so a certain trend can be inferred from these data: even in several of them, young people believe less that the central mechanism of the system works fairly .

But it is equally true that it is only for the youngest that it would be worth giving up the elections in exchange for a different system that guaranteed income and basic services. This data can be read both as an underestimation of the central feature of democracy (channeling the inevitable conflict in any society through agreed institutions and processes), and as a consequence of the previous one: if it is considered that the elections are rigged, it is more you are likely to be willing to give them up.

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A clue that would support this last thesis is that the refusal to exchange that same ideal guarantee of income and services for freedom of expression elicits notably less support among all generations, to the point that in all age groups between two thirds and three-quarters prefer not to give up the latter. If we understand the vote (ideally) as an institutionalized synthesis of individual expression, we are left with the impression that the rejection is the current operation, rather than the general one, of democracy. “We know that the youngest tend to be more open to change and therefore it is not surprising that if they do not value the democratic institutions of the the status quo reject also the system ”of functioning in which they are inserted, affirms Lupu. He also adds that another factor is social networks and their use. “We have found in previous surveys that those who consume more political information through social networks tend to have more negative opinions of democratic institutions – such as the management of elections – and therefore the generational difference can be, at least in part , an effect not so much of age but of the media that use different age groups ”.

The new Barometer of the Americas also shows that, according to Lapop, “great majorities in the region prefer direct democracy to the election of representatives.” Here is another evidence of mistrust around the mechanism, and possibly also the representatives themselves.

Taken together, these data point to major cracks in the never quite firm democratic architecture on the continent that pioneered the full development of this system. But it also points out possible vectors to close them, at least in countries that have not yet fallen under the authoritarian yoke: rebuilding trust in mechanisms and people, with the necessary reforms, and with a preferential audience among the new generations. .

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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