CIPR | Center For Inter-American Policy & Research

Tulane University

Mitch Seligson: "Citizen Perspectives on Democracy"

November 16th, 2010

Lecture Synopsis and Podcast

On November 16, 2010, the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research (CIPR) welcomed Centennial Professor of Political Science and Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, Mitch Seligson, Ph.D. for the final speaking event in CIPR’s Fall 2010 lecture series. Seligson, who is also the founder and director of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University, presented the latest findings of the AmericasBarometer survey on democratic opinion and behavior in the Americas.

Seligson’s discussion focused primarily on the recent economic crisis and its impact on democracy in the region. Several studies, including a recent Freedom House report, had indicated some decline in democratic support throughout the region even prior to the late 2000’s economic crisis. Many assumed the Americas would see further slippage in democratic support on account of the crisis.

The 2010 AmericasBarometer data, Seligson optimistically reported, suggests a surprising resiliency of democratic values and legitimacy in the context of economic crisis. Seligson explained support for democracy remained widespread throughout the Americas despite awareness, and in the case of Mexico, acute economic impact of the crisis. Interestingly, individuals throughout the region were much more likely to place blame for the crisis on their own governments rather than assign fault to the U.S. and other rich countries.

The AmericasBarometer data revealed few significant changes in perceptions of democratic values since 2008, and Seligson found this to be a positive indicator for good governance throughout the region. Seligson nevertheless highlighted two threats that may impact democratic opinion and support for democracy in the future: higher personal insecurity and increased street-level corruption.

After reviewing several of the key methodological aspects of the AmericasBarometer, Seligson reminded the Tulane audience that the survey is robust and fully transparent. Average citizens as well as students and researchers are encouraged to search the online database, which also includes the survey questionnaires, and suggest changes. LAPOP also aims to divulge the research findings of those utilizing its data. The 2010 AmericasBarometer survey becomes available to the public on December 1, 2010.

Listen to the complete podcast of Seligson’s lecture here.