Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-07012019-102505

Type of thesis
E-mail address
Political Participation in Latin America: A Comparative Analysis of Its Determinants and Implications
SCIENZE POLITICHE - Joint PhD in Political Science, European Politics and International Relations
Membro Prof. TUORTO, DARIO
Membro Prof. BARTLE, JOHN
  • approval
  • inequality
  • Latin America
  • political participation
  • resources
  • turnout
Exam session start date
There is a paradox in the behavior of mass public. Most people distrust political institutions and politicians, but only a few participate in public affairs. If people are so dissatisfied with the current political institutions and the incumbent governments, why don’t they express that discontent more through political action? To answer this question, I study political participation in Latin America to understand the correlates at the country level, the determinants at the individual level, and some of the consequences of participation for the polity and the subjective well-being of its citizens. For that purpose, the analyses employ three databases: the 2012 survey of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP); turnout in Latin America (1990-2019); rates of political participation beyond turnout based on available LAPOP waves (2006-2014).<br>Firstly, the dissertation reviews the conceptual problems related to the label, definition, and attributes of political participation. At its core, political participation is a set of voluntary acts (not an attitude) performed by citizens located or targeted in the sphere of politics and government. From different theoretical approaches, the studies of participation have focused on voting (at the individual level), turnout (country rates), and participation beyond voting. Although rational and sociological explanations are well grounded, it is possible to examine hypotheses that underscore the political context, that is, the relationship between citizens and the government. I propose that the degree of satisfaction with the incumbent is a reason behind participation, complementing the role of resources, attitudes, and mobilization that make up the Civic Voluntarism Model.<br>The analysis starts by describing rates of eleven acts of political participation in 18 Latin American countries. A factor analysis uncovers a latent structure of participation composed by three types: contacting politicians, voice politics (protesting, signing a petition, social network activism), and electoral activities (voting, partisan activism, campaigning). This means that the acts of participation are correlated, and that people are more likely to perform acts within each type than across them.<br>Comparatively, current levels of participation are not correlated with the political trajectories of the Latin American countries but with economic conditions. Turnout is vastly determined by the rules of compulsory voting, the party system fragmentation, the size of the population, and – to a lesser extent – by the closeness of the election. Even though the popularity of incumbent governments is unrelated with turnout, when the incumbent president is seeking reelection a lower approval significantly increases participation. Short-term changes in the rates of other forms of participation are influenced by economic adversity, which reduces activism, but not by the electoral cycle or by the level of democracy, except for protesting, which is more common when an election is nearby in time and among higher ranking democracies.<br>The individual-level analysis models participation as a sequence of choices from voting to doing something else: contacting politicians, voice politics, or both. It results that political context does matter, although resources, attitudes, and mobilization are still powerful predictors. Dissatisfaction with the government (distinguished from political legitimacy) leads to more participation through voice politics. Partisanship, either with the president’s party or with any other party, fosters participation, meaning it works more as an attitude and less as a conditional filter of performance evaluation. Contacting is more of an exceptional activity, being predicted by lower income and unrelated with approval.<br>A final chapter asks if broader participation improves democratic performance and makes citizens more satisfied with life. On one hand, several tests show there is almost no relationship between rates of participation in Latin America and the democratic performance (as measured by the World Bank’s governance indicators). On the other, participation is negatively correlated with subjective well-being, implying that people who participate are less satisfied with life than those who are inactive. These results debunk several theoretical premises about participation.<br>The conclusions underline the structural determinants of participation. Resources and political attitudes are powerful predictors of participation. Given the socioeconomic inequalities and the low interest in politics of the majority of the population, participation is scarce and unequal. But dissatisfaction with the incumbent government can push people to participate more, contrasting the effects of the structural barriers. The effects of approval might be even larger if measures on the direction of the participatory acts (for or against the government) were available, bringing the studies of participation to a next frontier.<br>