- The Success of the Left in Latin America: Untainted Parties, Market Reforms, and Voting Behavior by Rosario Queirolo
In the 2000s, the “pink tide” was all the rage in Latin America. The term typically refers to the electoral success of parties on the left. Starting in the late 1990s, it seemed as if country after country in the region was electing leftist parties to office, often by a landslide. By 2010, at least 11 Latin American countries were governed by pink candidates. Political scientists were puzzled—why was this happening? In political science, theories that seek to explain the vote are plentiful. Queirolo therefore needed a research design that would allow her to test a great number of competing explanations— and what is even harder—yield a new one. She succeeded.
Her answer is that the left in the 2000s emerged as a result of voters wanting to try something different (a “new alternative”), but also something cleaner. Rather than a preference for leftist policies per se, or a repudiation of prevalent market policies, Latin Americans wanted change, and they wanted clean parties to bring it about. In the author’s words, Latin American voters are driven by “outcome” preferences, not by “policy” or “partisan” preferences.
Queirolo is at the top of her craft when it comes to debunking myths. The first important myth is the idea that the pink tide was a novelty. When it began, in the late 1990s, many analysts heralded it as unprecedented—the first time that popular, equity-oriented parties had managed to come to power in the region. But Queirolo shows that the region has had “ideological cycles” in the past, and that the left was a previous favorite. To prove this point, she makes a methodological innovation by enhancing an existing method. That method was developed by political scientist Michael Coppedge for classifying parties on a left-to-right spectrum. Queirolo’s exercise was not without problems, but the results are truly eye-opening. It turns out that the left was predominant in Latin America during a previous cycle (1969-1976) and at least as competitive as the right in another cycle (1956-1968). In other words, the 2000s did not bring in a new era but rather repeated a phase in a cycle.
The second set of myths Queirolo debunks is the idea that the current phase represents a rejection of the neoliberal policies predominant in the 1990s, or conversely, a sign of “disadvantaged classes” rising politically, or something even simpler—a mere reflection of economic indicators. Using data from 1980 to 2010, Queirolo finds no confirmation [End Page 651] for any of these variables. Regarding neoliberalism, she finds no correlation between the depth of neoliberal reforms and the pink tide. Think Mexico and Venezuela. In Mexico, neoliberalism went far in 1990s, but the left stagnated in the 2000s. In Venezuela, the reverse was true. Regarding class, Queirolo finds that successful leftist parties have built cross-class coalitions, rather than relying exclusively on the have-nots. And regarding economic variables, Queirolo finds no clear correlation between macroeconomic or personal income variables and the vote for the left. The only economic factor that matters is high levels of unemployment. But even there, the variable is only meekly influential.
If it isn’t ideology or economics, what then is the explanation for the pink tide? It’s the combination of voters being somewhat inclined toward risk-taking and the belief that leftist parties are decidedly “untainted.” Using survey data about voter characteristics and views, Queirolo shows that voters chose the current crop of leftist parties because they were interested in trying a new alternative as a way to improve the status quo, in line with what prospect theory would suggest. And they chose parties on the left simply because they were not in power and thus could easily bill themselves as “alternative.” But here is a big catch: only those...