Attitudes toward Democracy: Mexico in Comparative Perspective

Article excerpt


Mexico's gradual democratization came to a critical point in 2000, when the presidential election brought about political alternation in that country. After remaining in power for 71 years, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was defeated at the polls. Vicente Fox, the National Action Party (PAIN) candidate, became the first President from a party other than the PRI in Mexico's modern history. Three years earlier, the PRI had lost its majority in Congress, and the 1990s witnessed how opposition parties defeated the PRI in local and state-level elections, gradually ousting the FRI from office in every level of government. After all of these significant transformations, how democratic are Mexicans nowadays and how do they value democracy? This question derives from the early studies on political culture which stated that democracy requires a compatible value system that helps it endure (Lipset 1959; Almond and Verba 1963).

Our task in this article is to assess how Mexicans value democracy and to what extent they possess the elements of a democratic political culture. We do this by comparing Mexican democratic values with those of other regions of the world, and also by observing how Mexicans' democratic attitudes have changed in the last few years. We also look at the differences among Mexicans, focusing on education as an important predictor of democratic values.

Academic efforts to measure democratic values and support for democracy in Mexico are not new, but the 1 990s brought a new wave of quantitative studies that used increasingly reliable and sophisticated opinion surveys based on national representative samples (Inglehart, Basanez, and Nevitte 1994; Dominguez and McCann 1996; Camp et al. 2001). These studies, as well as the surveys that provided the empirical evidence, reflect a period of profound political transformation. Moreover, Mexico included regularly national representative samples in international surveys that monitor, among other things, citizen support for democracy and the spread of democratic values. Both the World Values Survey, which serves as evidence to this article, and the Latinobarometro surveys are good examples.

The literature on support for democracy in Third Wave democracies has recently raised interesting paradoxes. Let us mention three of them. First, democracy has nowadays a widespread legitimacy in the world, but trust in democratic institutions has declined (Diamond and Gunther 2001). Moreover, political participation has also lost the enthusiasm of the democratic honeymoon in third wave democracies (Inglehart and Catterberg 2002).

The second paradox is that, although open support for democracy is almost universal today, its measurement is not a precise indicator of how rooted democracy is in society (Inglehart n.d.). A very illustrative indicator is that democracy is highly valued in Islamic societies, but very few Islamic societies have functioning democratic regimes. Given the little difference in democratic principles and ideals between Islamic societies and the West, there is hardly a "clash of civilizations" in those terms (Norris and Inglehart 2002).

A third paradox is that today, when survey researchers measure support for democracy, they are measuring support for a socially desirable concept, and measurement validity only reflects overt support (Inglehart n.d.). The fact is that measures of overt support for democracy do not tell us how democratic societies are, or how tolerant. On the contrary, measuring tolerance may tell us how democratic a society is.

Support for democracy may erode, especially when the economic context may raise doubts about the functioning of democratic institutions. References to the Weimar Republic often illustrate this syndrome (Inglehart 1997). Support for democracy was not enough to allow democracy to endure in a profound economic crisis. …