jueves, 15 de noviembre de 2007

A warning for reformers

The Latinobarómetro Poll
A warning for reformers

Nov 15th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Latin Americans expect more from the state and less from the market

DESPITE four years of solid economic growth and, in many countries, low inflation, Latin Americans continue to grumble about their democracies. In some countries in the region—though not in Brazil and Mexico, the two giants—they are becoming disillusioned with the market economy. But rather than socialism, they want a fairer distribution of income and a state that gives greater social protection. These are some of the conclusions suggested by the latest Latinobarómetro poll taken in 18 countries across the region and published exclusively by The Economist. Because the poll has been taken regularly since 1995, it tracks changes in public attitudes in the region.

The picture that emerges from this year's poll is somewhat contradictory. After a boost last year—probably the result of a dozen presidential elections in the region—support for democracy has fallen back slightly: only around half of respondents are convinced democrats (see table 1 and chart 2). In only five countries has support for democracy risen since last year: in Costa Rica and Panama, where popular social-democratic leaders are in office, and in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, whose left-wing presidents, respectively Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega, represent constituencies who have previously felt excluded from power.

Apart from in two small Central American countries (El Salvador and Honduras), the biggest falls in support for democracy occurred in Argentina and Chile. That is odd, since both countries' economies are growing fast. In Argentina, some democrats may have become disillusioned by dynastic rule: a presidential election last month saw an easy victory for Cristina Fernández, the wife of the outgoing president, Néstor Kirchner. In Chile, Michelle Bachelet may have failed to meet the expectations of social change that she aroused when elected in 2006.

Fewer than a fifth of respondents favour authoritarian government. Support for authoritarianism has fallen in both Mexico and Brazil to 17%, down respectively from peaks of 35% (in 2001) and 25% (in 2000). In two poor countries, Guatemala and Paraguay, a small majority now favours authoritarianism—nowhere was that the case last year.

Paraguayans and Peruvians are the least satisfied with how their democracy works in practice (see chart 3). Overall, only 37% of respondents across all 18 countries pronounced themselves satisfied with their democracies, a similar figure to last year. But that is up from 25% in 2001.

Latin Americans are becoming similarly equivocal towards the market economy: this year's poll shows sharp falls of those responding affirmatively when asked whether this is the best economic model for their country (see chart 4).

Marta Lagos, the director of Latinobarómetro, says this reflects not just the persistence of poverty but also the impact of the “leftist discourse” of the likes of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, against the United States and against the free-market formulae of the Washington Consensus. She adds that the poll does not show a demand for a fundamental change in the economic system but rather a desire for a more protective state.

Slightly over half of respondents across the region still favour the market economy. Private business is trusted slightly more than government. And support for privatisation continues to recover—though not in Argentina, where Mr Kirchner has preached in favour of nationalisation with a fervour similar to that of Mr Chávez (see chart 5). But many Latin Americans no longer seem to think that the market alone will bring them a fair share of the fruits of economic growth. Only 41% of respondents across the region think that governments guarantee equality of opportunity.
That is the main message for democratic reformers from the poll. Economic growth and democracy have improved the lives of many Latin Americans. But that in turn seems to have raised their expectations rather than making them more satisfied with the state of their nations. “After four years of growth people want to see that their slice of the cake is bigger,” says Ms Lagos.

Thanks to its bounteous oil revenues and Hugo Chávez's rapport with many of his country's poor, Venezuela stands out in the poll. Some 56% of respondents there said that the distribution of wealth in the country was fair, way above the regional average of 24%. Despite this, 63% of Venezuelan respondents said they had difficulties paying their bills each month, well above the regional average of 49%.

The poll finds that Mr Chávez is no more popular in Latin Americas as a whole than George Bush. He is considerably less popular than Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or Spain's king, Juan Carlos, and its prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (with both of whom Mr Chávez crossed words at a recent Ibero-American summit).

The poll shows that governments are steadily becoming more popular and many political institutions a bit less distrusted (see chart 6). One sign of better economic times is that fear of unemployment is falling steadily. For the first time, crime seems about to displace unemployment at the top of the list of problems in the region (see chart 7). If that trend continues, it could eventually see the region's political pendulum start to swing back towards the right after several years in which the left has been in the ascendant.

Latinobarómetro is a non-profit organisation based in Santiago, Chile, which has carried out regular surveys of opinions, attitudes and values in Latin America since 1995. The poll was taken by local opinion-research companies in 18 countries and involved 20,212 face-to-face interviews between September 7th and October 8th 2007. The average margin of error was 3%. Central America in chart 4 refers to an unweighted average of results from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. Further details from www.latinobarometro.org.

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