Democracy Support Declines in the Americas

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People are losing faith in democracy throughout the western hemisphere.

In North, Central and South America, and parts of the Caribbean, only 63% of the public expressed support for democracy in 2021. This is one of the key takeaways from the most recent AmericasBarometer surveys. that we have conducted every two years: support for democracy has fallen by nearly 10 percentage points since 2004.

The 2021 round – which included 64,352 interviews with voting-age adults in nationally representative surveys in 22 countries across North, Central and South America and the Caribbean – offers important insights into what is next. root of the decline in support for democracy in the region.

And that points to a possible explanation for the growth in support for authoritarian leadership in places like the United States, Peru, and El Salvador.

Distrust of electoral politics

This decline in support for democracy, which has parallels in other parts of the world, is alarming. Research has shown that massive support for democracy increases its chances of survival.

What erodes the appeal of democracy?

A growing number of people view their elections and their elected representatives as flawed and untrustworthy.

On average, around 3 in 5 adults in the region believe that most or all politicians are involved in corruption. However, these views vary considerably from country to country. In Peru, 88% of citizens think most or all of their politicians are corrupt. Only 20% of Canadians have this opinion of their leaders.

When asked how much they trust elections in their country, only 2 in 5 adults in the region gave a positive response. And in most of the countries we survey, less than half of adults think votes are always counted correctly.

Cynicism on the rise

Across the Americas, the public is increasingly disenchanted with elections and elected officials, our polls show.

These attitudes are correlated with declining support for democracy: the more cynical people are about the integrity of their elections and their elected representatives, the less likely they are to support democracy.

In many cases, these negative views on electoral politics are justified.

Waves of high-profile corruption scandals have rocked the Americas in recent years. The Panama Papers, a treasure trove of financial documents leaked in 2015, revealed that politicians in the region evaded taxes through secret offshore accounts.

In late 2016, Brazilian construction company Odebrecht admitted to spending hundreds of millions of dollars bribing officials across the region to secure government contracts.

There have also been scandals related to the COVID-19 pandemic, including politicians embezzling emergency funds or gaining access to vaccines before the general public.

Former presidents are imprisoned or under investigation in more than half of the major democracies in the Western Hemisphere, including Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru.

The elections have become deeply contentious. Sometimes this is due to disinformation campaigns, such as in Peru in 2021 and the United States in 2016 and 2020. Other times conflicts arise due to actual mismanagement – ​​and possible fraud. – as was the case in Bolivia in 2019.

The experiences of the recent past have made people in the Americas cynical about electoral democracy.

Supporters of President Pedro Castillo protested against Peru’s Congress in 2021 after lawmakers called for his removal.
Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Free expression is a priority

This cynicism does not mean that the region is ready to give up democracy altogether.

When the 2021 AmericasBarometer asked residents of the region to consider whether they would prefer a political system with elected representatives or a system guaranteeing a minimum standard of living without elections, 54% chose the latter.

But when asked to choose between a guaranteed standard of living and a system that protects free speech, 74% would prefer to be able to speak freely without fear of reprisal.

The difference between these responses indicates that most people in the Americas want their voices heard, but they don’t think most of their elected representatives are listening.

Instead, they are increasingly turning to charismatic populists to channel their voices against experienced politicians whom they believe to be corrupt.

People who thought Donald Trump should stay in the White House swarmed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Be open to the closing congress

Our survey asks people if they would find it justifiable for a president to shut down their national legislature in difficult times – a kind of coup d’etat known in Spanish as an autogolpe.

Support in the Americas for this extremely undemocratic action has increased dramatically, reaching 30%. This is more than double the levels seen in 2010.

In early 2019, our survey detected a significant increase in tolerance for the Congressional shutdown in Peru. At the end of 2019, Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra did just that.

In the same year, we detected a similar rise in the United States, driven by an unprecedented 21 percentage point increase among Republicans. Less than two years later, on January 6, 2021, hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol.

Meanwhile, the Salvadoran public has also become more tolerant of the executive shutdown of that country’s Congress amid high public support for President Nayib Bukele. He ordered security forces to intimidate the legislature and centralized power in the executive office.

More trust needed

Modern democracies are meant to translate the voice of the people into politics through elected representatives.

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But all over the Americas, the public is losing faith in this system. A growing number of eligible voters prefer to see people they see as strong leaders leading the government – ​​even if that means skipping elections or nullifying their results.

In our view, unless citizens everywhere from Alaska to Argentina regain confidence in the integrity of their elections and representative institutions, /flags-of-different-nations-on-high-flagpoles -royalty-free-image/1287077245?adppopup=truedemocracy across the Americas will remain in jeopardy.The conversation

Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and Director of LAPOP, Vanderbilt University and Noam Lupu, associate professor of political science and associate director of the LAPOP laboratory, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.