Ethnic Voting in Latin America

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte
2015 - 2018
German Research Foundation (DFG)

Dr. Fernando Mayorga, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Bolivia

Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, Universidad Católica, Bolivia

Dr. Simón Pachano, FLACSO, Ecuador



Research Questions
What are the levels of ethnic voting among different ethnic groups in different Latin American countries across time? How can variance in ethnic voting across groups, countries, and time be explained?

Contribution to International Research
The project contributes to research on interethnic relations, electoral behaviour, and party-voter linkages. Research on ethnic voting in Latin America lacks comparative historical analyses and focuses primarily on indigenous groups, ignoring Afro-Americans. This research project analyses variance in ethnic voting across time, Latin-American countries and ethnic groups. Its aim is to generate insights on the dynamics of ethnic voting and in so doing to contribute to a deeper understanding of interethnic relations, electoral competition, and democratic representation n Latin America and beyond.

Research Design and Methods
The aim of the project is to further develop theories on ethnic voting and test them empirically on the basis of a longitudinal comparative study over an extended period of time (25-30 years) of free and (relatively) fair elections. The three central theories along which ethnic voting is tested are identity based, patronage and spatial models of electoral competition. The data employed to measure ethnic voting consists of census data on ethnic group size according to self-categorisation, official election results and survey data. It makes use of a large variety of methods including quantitative, comparative, and qualitative methods.

Preliminary Results
First comparative analyses point to important variance in ethnic voting across countries. One of the countries with the highest level of ethnic voting is Bolivia. Time-series analyses show that this was not always the case since ethnic voting in Bolivia has been weaker in earlier periods. We find that the sharp rise in ethnic voting in Bolivia goes together with the rise of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) led by now president Evo Morales. This rise of MAS, our analyses further show, are not based on the mobilisation of all indigenous groups but primarily rests on the mobilisation of the indigenous groups in the highland. We are currently investigating why the MAS was not able to also mobilise the lowland indigenous groups.

In contrast to Bolivia we find very low levels of ethnic voting in Brazil. This is surprising regarding the fact that Afro-Brazilians are heavily underrepresented among the members of parliament. In our analysis of candidates’ electoral success we find that this underrepresentation is not due to electoral discrimination of the Afro-Brazilian candidates but their lower socio-economic status reflecting ethnic inequalities in society as a whole. Currently we are investigating how ethnic inequalities at the societal level translate into socio-economic inequalities between European-descendent and Afro-Brazilian candidates.