The Party's Over: Citizen Conceptions of Democracy and Political Dissatisfaction in Mexico

David Crow
2010 Comparative politics  
Mexicans are disenchanted with democracy-or at least with democracy in their country. A decade after the watershed 2000 presidential contest, they are already deeply distrustful of democratic institutions and actors, politicians, parties, and parliament. The contrast with the heady optimism of the 1990s could not be greater. Former President Ernesto Zedillo described the 1997 midterm elections, when the opposition wrested Congress from the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), as
more » ... a "democratic fiesta." The phrase aptly characterizes the citizen effervescence of the entire decade. Now, the party's over. This rapid, deep disillusionment is especially puzzling because one would expect the euphoria following the culmination of Mexico's transition to electoral democracy in 2000 to have been greater and more enduring than it has been. Decades of struggle for free and fair elections might have made citizens more forbearing of the shortcomings of the new government brought to power by these elections. Typically, democratic regimes' legitimacy affords them a "reservoir of good will" that enables governments to withstand "performance deficits." This reservoir, in theory, keeps citizens from generalizing their dissatisfaction with democratic governments to democracy as an ideal. 1 Democracies are insulated from frustration with economic downturns by their legitimacy of origin and ability to modify economic policy without changing regimes. 2 Yet a mere nine years or less sufficed in Mexico for satisfaction with democracy to fall dramatically from its peak in 1997. Why are Mexicans so dissatisfied with their democracy? The combination of a citizen conceptualization of democracy that emphasizes social equity-a "substantive" view of democracy-with poor government performance in just that respect is partly responsible. That is, even after accounting for other factors that bear on evaluations of democracy, how Mexicans define democracy exercises an important, independent effect on how satisfied they are with it. Specifically, citizens who view democracy as either political rights ("liberal" democrats) or elections ("electoral" democrats) are more satisfied than substantive democrats. The causal relationship between conceptualizations of democracy and satisfaction with it is both undertheorized and underexplored empirically. Exploring definitions of democracy in three Latin American countries, Roderic Ai Camp has established that Mexicans tend to view democracy in socioeconomic terms, but he does not relate this
doi:10.5129/001041510x12911363510358 fatcat:voemsqfzgvh3na7dcxyedl5pcm