Citizen disenchantment in new democracies : the case of Mexico



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In July, 2000, Mexico ended seven decades of single-party rule with the election of Vicente Fox as president, culminating its gran fiesta democrática of the 1990's. Less than a decade later, though, the party's over. Citizen disenchantment with politics is widespread: Mexicans profoundly distrust parties, politicians, and parliament. Mexico is hardly unique. Satisfaction with democracy is low, declining, or both in 72 new (or older, poor) democracies in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. This dissertation analyzes the causes and consequences of the current Mexican malais--and of discontentment with democracy around the world. It addresses two groups of questions. First, what causes dissatisfaction with democracy? Does it attach to specific politicians or institutions, or to poor evaluations of government performance? Or does it bespeak a deeper frustration with democracy and its inability to meet citizens' expectation--particularly socioeconomic ones? Second, what does disillusionment bode for political participation? Do dissatisfied citizens quit voting? Do they become alienated or turn to confrontational participation? I argue that a main cause of political dissatisfaction is a citizen concept of democracy, "substantive" democracy, emphasizing economic improvement and social equity, combined with poor government performance in just those respects. This combination poses challenges for democracy in many countries, not just Mexico. Though citizens in apparently ineffective democracies are more disposed to entertain authoritarian alternative--which have already toppled some wavering democracies--most new democracies, including Mexico, have hung on. Widespread and deep dissatisfaction with democracy may jeopardize the survival of some new democracies, but the more immediate concern raised by dissatisfaction is its detrimental impact on political participation--and, ultimately, the quality of democracy. For citizens who conceive of democracy as an instrument of economic equality, their governments' failure to ameliorate poverty leads to disengagement from politics. These citizens vote and engage in institutional participation less often. Dissatisfaction also predisposes a small but significant minority of citizens to contentious political participation. Political dissatisfaction makes new democracies more likely to consolidate as what scholars have described as "semi-", "partial", or "illiberal" democracies.