Latin American Centre Seminars: Do our Adversaries Play by the Rules? Distrust and Democracy in Latin America
The common definition of “democratic consolidation” as a situation in which democracy has turned into “the only game in town” (Linz and Stepan 1996) describes a “self-reinforcing equilibrium” in which “all politically relevant” actors play by basic democratic rules. Yet how can actors discern such a happy situation of general rule compliance? How can they know that their adversaries obey democratic rules? Strictly speaking, they cannot know. Given the general indeterminacy of rules and the opacities of rule compliance, they can never know. For instance, democratic elections “entail the largest peacetime mobilization of the national population in a short time span” (Mozaffar and Schedler 2002: 5). They require the coordination of hundreds of thousands of individuals engaged in dozens of different activities. Whether adversaries conduct themselves in strict obeisance to the letter and the spirit of the law, neither participants nor observers can know for sure. They can only trust.
The comparative regime literature tends to deal with the problem of such factual uncertainties either by declaring it unresolvable (e.g. Przeworski et al. 2000: 28–29) or by relying on expert judgments (e.g. Coppedge et al. 2011, Elklit and Reynolds 2005, and Kelley 2012). The epistemological role of trust that allows actors to believe that their adversaries comply with basic democratic rules has been noted only in its absence, namely, in situations of political polarization in which deep distrust creates firm believes that contenders violate the rules of democratic competition. In this paper, I plan to explore the role which distrust and political polarization play in the formation of citizen beliefs on the integrity of elections in Latin America on the basis of comparative survey data on perceptions of electoral integrity from the 6th wave of the World Values Survey (http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/).