Thursday, December 28, 2017

Anti-Incumbent Sentiment in Latin America

Andrés Velasco looks at the election of conservative presidents in Latin America and makes inaccurate conclusions from them. First, a straw man.

In much of the international press, the standard narrative runs something like this: Because Latin America has the most unequal income distribution in the world, it tends to elect left-wing reformers. When the reformers keep their word and provide generous social benefits, voters love it and rush to the polls to keep the same person or party in office.

No, this is not what I typically read, and it certainly doesn't reflect anything we know about Latin American politics.Not long after Hugo Chávez was first elected, so was Vicente Fox and Alvaro Uribe, neither of whom promised "generous social benefits." What they promised was change.

What we're seeing in Latin America now is anti-incumbent sentiment. Sometimes that is deepened by concern about corruption and sometimes less so. What Velasco sees instead is an electorate that wants market-driven policies and strong policy makers:

In a country that is much more educated than it was a generation ago, voters have come to expect a minimum level of competence from their leaders. 

This is a dangerous assumption. The U.S. is highly educated and look at who we elect. Further, Velasco undermines his own argument by noting (accurately) that market-driven policies generate significant backlash:

Piñera was the choice of only 36% of voters in the first round. But in the runoff, enough voters viewed him as the lesser of two evils to enable him to win by a comfortable nine-point margin. He will not have a majority in Congress, and students and unions will likely return to the streets shortly after he takes over in March. He is hoping to be like Macri, who has remained popular. But he could end up resembling Michel Temer, who replaced Rousseff, and Kuczynski, both of whom lost whatever public support they had after only a few months in office.

In short, Chileans were voting against--anti incumbent--and not for market-driven or any other type of policy. Blithely assuming otherwise will get you in trouble.


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