Why Latin Americans vote the way they do?

by Freddy GdiP

AmericasPoliticsAs an Argentinean who has historically voted against peronism –the biggest political party in my country and usual winner of every election- I’ve always looked at U.S.A. with a healthy dose of jealousy over its political system and the serious thought its people –at least seem to- put into their vote.

Compared to us, North Americans seem to be quite skeptical and empirical when it comes to choosing a candidate. They meditate on what that person has done in the past and if he or she has fulfilled the promises they made. They get to face them in open debates and challenge them in real time to test their reflexes and ideas. They don’t just blindly vote the same party every time for ideological reasons and they certainly don’t seem to have that kind of “unquestioning loyalty” which is demanded of peronist voters in Argentina by their leaders. Unquestioning loyalty requires, well, exactly that and it’s a precious commodity to have if you are an elected politician without many regards for a healthy democracy. That way, if the ruling party has done a disastrous administration, it can still win the next election because its voters are supposed to show their faithfulness to the party by voting for them again. Astoundingly idiotic, yes, but that’s the way it is in Argentina and that’s the way it is in most of the other Latin American countries.

Nothing of what I’ve just said is new to anybody from outside Latin America who has taken any interest in the matter. I, for one, am sick of seeing North Americans shake their heads in disbelief at the incomprehensible decisions most Latin Americans make each time they vote because I’m even more frustrated at it than they are –You think this is bad? I have to live here! – And it only seems to get worse each time. Political activism in Argentina, Venezuela and several other countries is encouraged by the ruling parties but always in the form of militant activism. That is to say, unquestioningly loyal to the party and with absolutely no personal opinions that might actually challenge the views of their leaders. Latin American populist party followers are required, above all, not to think for themselves. And as their national economies deteriorate, thus creating a growing and genuine popular discontent, the ruling parties try to simulate public support by exhibiting and relying on their zombified militant activists.

 This Sunday Venezuela has a chance to turn things around and make it better for their citizens. After years of booming oil prices that should’ve translated into welfare, infrastructure, jobs, education and more liberties for their countrymen, Venezuela has the third highest inflation rate in the world, constant shortage of basic products of every sort, harassment of free press, prosecution of independent minded judges, less liberties for the citizens, a bigger gap between rich and poor and a frightening crime rate.

If elected, Nicolás Maduro, the former vice president of the late Hugo Chavez and current candidate for his party is going to continue the same government policies that have driven Venezuela for the last 14 years to its current state.

If you ask me, I think Maduro will win.

What is the voting logic behind such an outcome? And why is the voting logic of Latin Americans and North Americans so different?

U.S.A. has a nicely balanced bipartisan system with Democrats and Republicans, which can be categorized as Left Wing and Right Wing parties but we, in Latin America, have a much more disorganized arrangement. We have Right Wing parties, Left Wing parties and Left-Left Wing parties. The Right Wing parties would represent fairly well U.S. Republicans. The Left Wing parties would represent a leftier version of Democrats but –usually- with all the greed and crookedness that is commonly associated with Republicans. And the Left-Left parties are closer to the old U.R.S.S. ideals of socialism than anything else. To a Latin American voter, U.S.A. has no real Left Wing party. To him –or her- Democrats represent a sort of “Center” wing with a few left sided stands like immigration policies and same sex marriage.

By the above composition it´s easy to see that overall Left Wing supporters are a pretty big majority down here. And at least in Latin America, Left Wing politics have a deeper ideological component than Right Wing politics. Therefore, their supporters are more inclined to vote based in ideological arguments rather than purely technical ones. Or at least they do so in a bigger percentage than Right Wing supporters do.

Loyalty to a party is never a good idea for a healthy democracy. It forgives things that shouldn´t be forgiven and it generates messianic and corrupt leaders. The Heart is forgiving. The Head is not. While Latin American Left Wing voters continue to follow their hearts more than their heads elections will continue to produce inadequate leaders for the region.