Since the mid- 1970s, political changes in the world have brought newly competitive party systems to a considerable number of societies. If we include both stable and emerging democracies, the number of countries with party competition and the geographical scope of such competition is unprecedented. This book explores the patterns of party competition and the sources of political cleavages in many of these countries. The emphasis is on Latin America, but the book develops a comparative analysis that includes advanced industrial societies and emerging democracies of the post-Communist world. These two benchmarks serve to bring a global perspective to the dynamics and dimensions of political competition in Latin America.
Generally, the most salient issues in society determine the dimensions of political competition. These dimensions, in turn, shape the relevant political cleavages. For example, social and economic changes in advanced industrial society have increased the salience of particular concerns among the mass electorates. These "new issues," or issues of the "new politics"--such as environmentalism, minority rights, feminist issues, and gay and lesbian expressions--have affected not only the meaning of party competition but also the social bases of party support--thus redefining the meaning of left and right as the main poles of political competition. In the classic socioeconomic conflict, support for the left comes mainly from working-class voters, whereas support for the right comes mainly from middle- and upper-class voters. With respect to "new politics" issues, middle- and upper-class voters tend to support new left parties, and working-class voters tend to support new right parties. In fact, scholarly work suggests that the influence of class has diminished remarkably and that party support is mainly based on issue orientations. All these societal and political changes have generated a wide revision of the traditional literature on political cleavages. However, one major assumption