Political tolerance wanes in parts of Latin America

"The countries in the southern cone like Uruguay and Chile appear to be heading toward full democratic consolidation where widespread acceptance of basic democratic rights for everyone is the norm," says Jonathan Hiskey. "Others—such as Honduras, Peru, and Bolivia—appear to be heading in the opposite direction." (Credit: Globovisión/Flickr)

Support for political tolerance—a key indicator of a vibrant democratic political culture—remains strong in many Latin American and Caribbean nations, but in others a move in the opposite direction “represents alarming news,” according to a new report.

From 2006 to 2012, the percentage of citizens who were strongly politically tolerant fell from 38.1 to 33 percent. The nearly 5 percentage-point dip “warrants close attention,” says report author Jonathan Hiskey, a faculty fellow at Vanderbilt University’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP).

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To gauge the degree of political tolerance, researchers questioned citizens about their willingness to extend throughout the region support for the voting rights for critics of the political system.

“Critical to the survival of any democracy is that individuals accept the right of their fellow citizens to have an equal voice in the political system, even those they disagree with,” says Hiskey, associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt.

“With this in mind, when a significant portion of a citizenry opposes the right to vote for anyone who criticizes the system, this is a sign that democracy itself might be in trouble in that country.”

Danger areas

The percentage that strongly disapproved of voting rights for critics has inched up from 20.7 to 21.9 percent. Noting that, the report summarizes that “even after nearly two decades of democracy, across most countries in the region, one in every five citizens remains strongly opposed to allowing system critics the most basic of democratic rights—the vote.”

Danger areas, where democracy may be in peril, include Honduras, Peru, and Bolivia, all of which have “strongly tolerant” scores under 20 percent and “strongly intolerant” scores of over 20 percent, suggesting a political culture that has failed to fully embrace a fundamental principle of democracy.

Countries with the strongest support for this basic right to vote for all eligible citizens were Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. In countries such as Brazil and Nicaragua, tolerance held at around 40 percent through the entire 2006-2012 term measured.

“The countries in the southern cone like Uruguay and Chile appear to be heading toward full democratic consolidation where widespread acceptance of basic democratic rights for everyone is the norm,” Hiskey says. “Others—such as Honduras, Peru, and Bolivia—appear to be heading in the opposite direction.”

Source: Vanderbilt University