A regional poll has found that support for democracy is higher among Venezuelans than citizens of any other Latin American country.
The Chilean-based Latinobarometro organisation, which has undertaken annual studies of political, social and economic attitudes in Latin America since 1995, released the findings in its 2013 report on Friday.
According to the report, 87% of Venezuelans support democracy over any other kind of political system, a higher percentage than any other of the eighteen Latin American and Caribbean countries measured. Venezuela is followed by Argentina (73%), Uruguay (71%), and Chile (63%), with the regional average of citizen support for democracy at 56%.
Venezuela is also one of the Latin American countries in which support for democracy has most greatly increased since studies began in 1995, when it was 60%.
Further, the study reported that 42% of Venezuelans are “satisfied” with the functioning of their democracy, the seventh highest of eighteen countries polled, with the regional average of satisfaction with democracy at 39%.
In the context of the findings, the report observed that “Venezuela thus remains in the eye of controversy as the country where there is the greatest distance between what its citizens say and what the international community says about its democracy”.
The report also found Venezuelans to be the most politically engaged and ideologically polarised in Latin America.
Forty nine percent of Venezuelans say that they are interested in politics, the highest level in the region, with the average being 28%. The least politically engaged country is Chile, where only 17% say they have an interest in politics.
Venezuela is also reported to be the most “ideologised” country in Latin America, with only 6% of respondents not placing themselves somewhere on the left – right divide of the political spectrum. Again, the reverse case is Chile, where 38% of citizens do not place themselves anywhere on the left-right spectrum, followed by Brazil at 32%. The regional average of non-ideological classification is 19%.
This ideological polarisation is further reflected in the question asking citizens of each country to identify themselves as left-wing, right-wing, or centrist. In Venezuela 36% of citizens define themselves as left-wing (the highest percentage in the region), 32% as right-wing (the third-highest in the region) and 26% as centrist (the third-lowest in the region).
These high levels of political engagement and ideological polarisation appear to have been reflected in political participation in Venezuela in recent years, with voter turnout for the last two presidential elections among the region’s highest, at around 80%.
Crime and Shortages are Biggest Problems
According to the Latinobarometro poll Venezuelans feel crime and shortages in the economy are the country’s two greatest problems, while issues such as poverty, health and education services, and youth opportunities are not considered big problems by citizens.
Forty-seven percent of Venezuelans say crime is their country’s biggest problem, the highest of any country in the region. Crime is considered the top national problem by 27% of Latin Americans in general, making it the region’s biggest problem in the eyes of the population.
Venezuela scores well on citizen perception of government capacity to resolve problems, with 50% of Venezuelans feeling that the government will “probably” resolve the country’s chief problems in the next five years, the sixth most optimistic response in the region. The average is 42%.
Moreover, despite some economic difficulties experienced this year, Venezuelans show themselves generally in line with the regional average for perceptions of personal economic circumstances and predictions of economic improvement in the coming period.
Specifically, 32% of Venezuelans feel their current personal economic situation is “good” (regional average 33%) and 38% feel that the country’s economic situation will improve during the next three years (regional average 40%).
The Grass is Greener?
One finding which has raised eyebrows in international media is the divergent economic views of citizens in countries such as Venezuela and Chile.
In response to the statement “a market economy is the only system with which the country can become developed” the strongest support comes from Venezuelans, 69% of whom agree. The regional average of support for a market economy is 59%.
In Venezuela the state plays a strong role in the economy and the government of President Nicolas Maduro espouses “21st century socialism” as the ideal economic model for the country’s development.
Meanwhile 43% of Chileans express support for a market economy as the only possible development model, the second lowest level of support in Latin America. Chile has a market-led economic model which is generally hailed by orthodox financial voices as an example for the region.
These divergent opinions appear to coincide with dissatisfaction over the practical performance of private and state owned public services such as water and electricity. Only 18% of Chileans believe that privatisation of such services has been of benefit to the country, while 39% of Venezuelans feel that nationalisation of private services has been beneficial.
The Latinobarometro survey in Venezuela was carried out with a sample of 1200 respondents and an error margin of +/- 2.8%.