The Beginning of the Parliamentary Elites in Latin America Project from the University of Salamanca

The PELA investigation began in 1994 with a project called 'Political Reform and Parliamentarians’ Values in Four Latin America Nations’.2 This opened a strand of research based on the study of Latin American MPs’ attitudes, opinions and values, and it sought to fill the lacuna of opinion studies applied to elites.

The aim that propelled the project and which has directed the investigation ever since is to understand who Latin American legislators are and how they behave. Thus we have paid attention to the socio-demographic as well as ideological characteristics of MPs from a comparative perspective. This has allowed, through data processing, the assessment of differences and similarities among the elites from the various countries studied, along with data on a series of factors such as MPs’ careers, their democratic and institutional points of view, their political party relations or their foreign policy positions, among other aspects.

The research in its pilot scheme applied to a small number of countries: Argentina, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The purpose of this first stage was to identify the most important variables for study, along with relevant hypotheses in both theoretical and empirical terms. Following this approach, we chose an investigation strategy based on case studies (Garcia, Mateos and Rivas 2014).

Quantities of collected data and the need to study the elites in-depth prompted an increase in the number of countries observed, as can be seen in Table 12.1, and the first wave ended with 16 countries in the sample. The last case to be included was Brazil, which entered in the third wave. For the first time, the questionnaire was applied in a language other than Spanish, which allowed the Brazilian Academy to use the project’s databank. Moreover, the number of variables to be considered increased with the territorial extension of the project, as will be explained below.

Methodological Design: Key Questions

This field of investigation has been qualified as incipient due to the scarcity of prior studies based on the attitudes and public opinion features of parliamentary elites during the 1990s (Diamond 1999). This was especially clear in

1st wave

2nd wave

3rd wave

4th wave

5th wave

Leg. P.

inter

views

%

Leg. P.

inter

views

%

Leg

P.

inter

views

%

Leg

P.

inter

views

%

Leg.

P.

inter

views

%

Argentina

95-97

68

26.5

97-01

128

49.8

03-07

105

40.9

07-011

110

43.0

09-13

70

27.0

Bolivia

93-97

74

56.9

97-02

98

75.4

02-07

80

61.5

06-10

98

75.4

10-14

97

74.6

Brazil

03-07

134

26.1

07-11

129

25.1

10-14

122

23.8

Chile

93-97

93

77.5

97-01

89

74.2

01-05

88

73.3

06-10

90

75.0

10-14

86

74.6

Colombia*

98-02

88

54.7

02-06

95

57.2

06-10

107

64.5

10-14

91

55.0

Costa Rica

94-98

52

91.2

98-02

49

86.0

02-06

51

89.5

06-10

57

100.0

10-14

56

98.3

El Salvador

94-97

46

54.8

97-00

58

69.0

00-03

64

76.2

03-06

80

95.2

06 09

72

85.0

Ecuador

96-98

72

87.8

98-02

112

92.6

02-06

98

98.0

09-12

95

76.7

13-17

94

68.6

Guatemala*

95-00

63

78.8

00-04

79

69.9

04-08

121

76.6

08-12

97

61.4

Honduras

94-97

67

52.3

97-01

71

55.5

01-05

102

79.7

06-10

91

71.1

10-14

91

70.0

Mexico

94-97

123

24.6

97-00

126

25.2

00-03

124

24.8

03-06

124

24.8

06-09

128

25.6

Nicaragua

96-01

70

75.3

02-06

60

65.2

07-11

69

75.0

12-17

52

57.0

Panama*

99-04

64

90.1

04-09

68

87.2

09-13

64

90.0

Paraguay

93-98

47

58.8

98-03

65

81.3

03-08

56

70.0

08-13

72

90.0

13-17

55

68.8

Peru

95-00

87

72.5

01-06

83

69.2

06-11

96

73.4

11-16

93

72.0

17-21

73

53.3

Dom. Rep.

94-98

62

51.7

98-02

103

69.1

02-06

118

78.7

06-10

94

52.8

10-14

78

42.6

Venezuela*

93-98

69

34.0

00-05

100

60.6

Uruguay

95-00

73

73.7

00-05

68

68.7

05-10

86

86.8

10-15

79

79.8

15-20

69

69.7

N

933

1371

1500

1577

1395

Source: Authors' elaboration, from Garcia. Mateos and Rivas (2014). * There is no completely representative proof available.

Latin America, where the only important study was that of Higley and Gunther (1992). Thus PELA represented a challenge and an opportunity at the same time: it was a challenge due to the dearth of prior theoretical and methodological referents to guide the measurement of legislators’ attitudes and profiles; it was an opportunity by making the project a pioneer in the study of attitudes of Latin America parliamentary elites.

Because a new line of investigation was being opened up, the project undertook two approaches: empirical-descriptive and empirical-explanatory (Garcia and Mateos 2001). With this double goal, the project first described parliamentary elites in Latin America by remarking upon those features that identify this class collectively (socio-demographic, ideological or party-related). Later, the investigation delved more deeply into the explanatory dimension by studying the possible relationships between these features and MPs’ opinions on the consolidation of democracy.

These variables were selected for the purpose of studying elites in some degree of complexity. That is, focus was brought to socio-demographic features and the trajectories of MPs, as well as to their opinions on the main common issues driving the national and international politics of any state. Considering the empirical-explanatory view of the investigation, it was important to ask MPs many questions about their perceptions, their institutions and economic systems, their positions on international politics and their attitudes, as well as to identify their personal ideologies.

From these premises, and through use of the questionnaire and selected indicators, two general aims were established: 1) the methodical description and comparison of specific cases; and 2) evaluation of the reliability of indicators. As for the first aim, the questionnaire allowed for comparison as well as generalisation due to the systematic integration of several dimensions of analysis. Moreover, recourse to large numbers of cases allows greater use of statistical techniques to identify causal connections among different variables. As for the second aim, certain weaknesses in terms of reliability and validation in the questionnaire have been detected and addressed in successive revisions. New axes have also been incorporated, adapting to the political and academic requirements of each given moment (Garcia, Mateos and Rivas 2014).

At first, the more important indicators - measured in terms of their presence in design - were those that also permitted a description of the MPs' profiles, both from a socio-demographic point of view and with regard to their attitudes towards the main elements of their political systems. With subsequent waves, the project’s aims have widened and inferences have been established between the opinions and attitudes of elites and the quality of a given democracy, along with analysis of the degree of suitability between representatives and citizens.

As for the universe under study, it is composed of MPs in every country studied for the entirety of each term. This has enabled us to adopt a comparative analysis strategy of a mixed nature that examines both MPs and countries as a whole. Therefore, paraphrasing Garcia and Mateos (2001: 178-9):

Central points

Main variables

Democracy, elections and form of government

  • - Stability of and satisfaction with democracy
  • - Democratic quality
  • - Factors associated with consolidation of democracy and regression risk
  • - Design of the electoral system
  • - Confidence in the electoral processes
  • - Definition and ideal form of government

Political parties

  • - Party identity
  • - Degree of continuity among political parties
  • - Political party functions
  • - Links between political parties and society
  • - Confidence in political parties
  • - Party whip
  • - Internal democracy

Institutions

  • - Confidence in institutions
  • - Independence of judiciary
  • - Obstacles to independence of judiciary
  • - Valuation of armed forces

Patronage system and corruption

  • - Incentives used during electoral campaigns
  • - Corruption perceptions in several institutions and groups

Function of the state and public policies

  • - Evaluation of public policies and public expenditures
  • - Degree of state intervention
  • - Function of the state
  • - Privatisations
  • - Tax policy

Integration and foreign policy

  • - Foreign policy priorities
  • - Regional integrations
  • - European Union assessment
  • - Free Trade Agreement assessment

Political career and parliamentary activity

  • - Socio-economic origin and family socialisation
  • - Membership in political parties
  • - Beginnings in politics
  • - Political career motivations
  • - Motivations for joining a political party
  • - Offices of representation, appointment and within the political party
  • - Why they were chosen
  • - Political expectations
  • - Representation priorities
  • - Decision-making
  • - Work in committees

Ideological axis (left-right politics)

  • - Identify one’s ideology
  • - Ideological distance between political parties
  • - Ideological placement of national and international leaders

Central points

Main variables

Socio-demographic

features

  • - Gender
  • - Age
  • - Civil status
  • - Studies
  • - Job
  • - Religion and/or religious practice
  • - Level of income
  • - Opinions on abortion, drug legalization and same-sex marriage

Source: Authors’ elaboration using PELA.

  • • Each country provides a case study in which features and causal relations within the country are gathered. In this way, the behaviour of MPs at a particular moment may be explained from a view that yields information on the changes and continuities during parliamentary terms.
  • • Each country represents an analysis unit within the region as a whole. As parliamentary elites are also considered globally, it is easy to infer regional conclusions and to establish both ditferences and similarities found in specific geographic areas (Central America, the Southern Cone, the Andean countries, etc.).
  • • Having access to studies from each parliamentary term since 1994 allows the establishment of comparisons between different historical moments, considering information from within each country as well as for purposes of regional comparison. Furthermore, such longitudinal research offers evidence of changes in attitudes and behaviours, while also allowing for tests of the utility of questions and answers.

With respect to the criteria for the selection of proofs, a proportional criterion is applied for each political party without consideration of gender, ethnic group or age. Thus, the specific selection of interviewees is random, in keeping with a methodological decision that grants importance to representation over personal terms or attitudinal characteristics. This enables us to draw conclusions about the differences and similarities MPs from different political forces may present (not excluding the possibility of independent candidates). Moreover, the high heterogeneity in the composition of Latin American parliaments, as measured in the personal characteristics of their members (by gender, age or ethnic group), makes it difficult to set the criteria that might apply homogeneously across all of the countries studied.

 
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