Central Data Catalog

Citation Information

Type Working Paper
Title Latin America’s Hour of Optimism: On the Results of Latinobarometro 2010
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2010
URL http://www.asep-sa.org/latinobarometro/LATBD_Latin_Americas_hour_of_optimism.pdf
As has been the case for the past 15 years, Santiago-based polling firm Latinobarómetro
has recently released the results of its 2010 survey, spanning 17 Latin American
countries, more than 20,000 interviews, and a wide range of topics, from the state of the
economy to politics and foreign affairs. At this point, Latinobarómetro has become one
of Latin America’s most important sources of self-knowledge, as well as an inevitable
reference point in the region’s policy debates. Any short opinion piece will fail to do
justice to the wealth of information generated by this edition of the survey. However, I
would use the next paragraphs to comment on four particularly salient issues raised by
this new batch of results.
The first one is the remarkable optimism underscored by the survey. Latin Americans
seem to think that they never had it so good. There is plenty of good news in these
results, the most important of which conveys the strides democracy has made to become
“the only game in town” in Latin America. Today, 61% of Latin Americans prefer
democracy to any other political system, up from 54% three years ago. This is the first
time that this figure has gone up four consecutive years in Latinobarómetro. Equally
noteworthy is the fact that 44% of respondents claim to be satisfied with the way
democracy works in their countries, a repeat of the 2009 figure and the highest number
since the series began in 1996. While other indicators –including the perception that
democracy favors the interest of the wealthy few (60% say it does)—remain problematic,
the poll’s findings with regards to democratic attitudes are remarkably positive. As the
survey’s report rightly maintains, democratic consolidation is not about huge leaps
forward in political attitudes but about the accumulation of small positive changes. While
the adoption of a democratic routine in the region is, in many ways, the product of a
three-decade long process, it is very clear that the past few years have been crucial in
crystallizing this trend. Economic contraction notwithstanding –the 2009 recession
caused the region’s GDP to fall 1.9%— since 2003 Latin America has had the best cycle
of economic growth in nearly fifty years, one that has pulled more than forty million
people out of poverty and thrust them into the middle classes. Even more remarkably,
over the past decade, income inequality –the region’s bitter trademark—has fallen in 15
out of 18 Latin American countries, partly due to significant increases in social outlays
and the adoption of many innovative policies. Simply put, the combination of sustained
economic growth and aggressive social policies, able to make a dent on poverty and
inequality, has proven to be a very powerful tonic for democracy. Not only has it
bolstered up support for democracy and popular satisfaction with it, but also made
democracy more resilient. The last few years have built up a reservoir of political good
will that allows democracy to withstand crises –such as the 2009 economic slump—with
far greater ease.

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