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Discussing the 2010 AmericasBarometer Survey: "Democratic Consolidation in the Americas During Hard Times"

By Danielle Nesmith
January 21, 2011

An audio file of this event is available for download here.

Despite the major global economic crisis that has affected most Latin American countries, democratic attitudes and the perceived legitimacy of political systems in the region are surprisingly resilient according to the Latin America Public Opinion Project’s (LAPOP) 2010 AmericasBarometer. LAPOP director Mitchell Seligson and associate director Elizabeth Zechmeister discussed these and other findings during an event at the Inter-American Dialogue on January 21.

This latest AmericasBarometer report, “Democratic Consolidation in the Americas during Hard Times,” reflects interviews with more than 43,000 individuals from 26 countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. Seligson argued that support for democracy in Latin America did not change significantly since the previous report was released in 2008, suggesting that drops in household income during the economic crisis did not alter Latin American’s preference for democracy. Instead, the survey data suggests that perception of how successfully governments managed the economy was most influential.   

Zechmeister moved the discussion from economic to political indicators, highlighting the AmericaBarometer’s methodology for predicting political instability and potential coups d'état throughout the region. Specifically, the formula combines public opinion surveys of support for a given administration and the country’s current political system with economic performance.

Zechmeister argued that the results of these indicators demonstrated that support for democracy has gained some measure of resilience in Latin America—eight countries were identified as at risk of a coup in the 2008 survey (including Honduras, which experienced one in 2009), but by 2010 only Haiti remained on the list. With 61 percent of Haitians identified as dissatisfied with all three of the instability indicators, the AmericasBarometer shows the Caribbean country to be at dramatically higher risk for a coup than any other country in the hemisphere.

The 2010 report also discusses the impact of natural disasters on public perception, an especially relevant indicator following major earthquakes in Chile and Haiti in 2010. Zechmeister and Seligson concluded that the experience of a powerful earthquake increased public support for coups, most likely because perceptions of inadequate responses during and after the disasters underscored citizens’ lack of confidence in their governments. At the same time, the data also showed that the occurrence of natural disasters encouraged individuals’ inclination towards political participation.

American University assistant professor Todd Eisenstadt praised LAPOP’s work in a brief discussion following the presentation, commenting, “Public opinion doesn’t lie, but it changes slowly over time. This is the best single way of measuring how democracies are performing.”