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Poverty of Democracy

The Institutional Roots of Political Participation in Mexico

Claudio A. Holzner

Publication Year: 2010

Political participation rates have declined steadily in Mexico since the 1990s. The decline has been most severe among the poor, producing a stratified pattern that more and more mirrors Mexico’s severe socioeconomic inequalities. Poverty of Democracy examines the political marginalization of Mexico’s poor despite their key role in the struggle for democracy. Claudio A. Holzner uses case study evidence drawn from eight years of fieldwork in Oaxaca, and from national surveys to show how the institutionalization of a free-market democracy created a political system that discourages the political participation of Mexico’s poor by limiting their access to politicians at the local and national level. Though clean elections bolster political activity, Holzner shows that at the local level, and particularly in Mexico’s poorest regions, deeply rooted enclaves of authoritarianism and clientelism still constrict people’s political opportunities.To explain this phenomenon, Holzner develops an institutional theory in which party systems, state-society linkages, and public policies are the key determinants of citizen political activity. These institutions shape patterns of political participation by conferring and distributing resources, motivating or discouraging an interest in politics, and by affecting the incentives citizens from different income groups have for targeting the state with political activity. Holzner’s study sheds light on a disturbing trend in Latin America (and globally), in which neoliberal systems exacerbate political and economic disparities and create institutions that translate economic inequalities into political ones.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pitt Latin American Series

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvii

I became interested in the poor’s political participation when I was a senior in college studying Latin American politics. Between 1982 and 1990 almost all countries in the region abandoned authoritarianism in favor of multiparty democracies, democracies that almost universally implemented strict austerity programs and structural reforms designed to shrink the state’s role...

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1. The Return of Institutions: Political Opportunities and Participation

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pp. 1-19

Mexico’s political system was once hailed as the “perfect dictatorship,” characterized by regular elections, widespread legitimacy, and uninterrupted rule by the same political party (the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI) for seventy years. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Mexico’s brand of authoritarianism was its relative openness to political activity from...

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2. Toward an Institutional Theory of Political Participation

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pp. 20-50

Since the late 1980s, citizens of Mexico have lived through a period of extraordinary political, social, and economic transformations. Politically they have witnessed the fall from power of the world’s longest-ruling party, a transition to a multiparty democracy, and a newly vibrant political arena that offers them many innovative ways to express their opinions at the...

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3. Neoliberal Reforms, the State, and Opportunities for Political Participation

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pp. 51-99

One of the difficulties of developing and applying an institutional framework is identifying which institutions matter most for citizen political activism. This problem is particularly acute in the case of Mexico because so much changed between 1990 and 2000. Reforms that opened the political system will certainly impact people’s political activity, but it is much less...

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4. Political Institutions, Engagement, and Participation

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pp. 100-127

Listening to people talk about their experiences with new economic policies implemented during the 1990s gives us insight into how institutional changes linked to neoliberal reforms influenced their ability and desire to participate in politics. New policies and different state-society relationships suppressed the political activity of the poor by decreasing their capacity to...

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5. Uneven and Incomplete Democratization in Mexico

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pp. 128-153

While neoliberal reforms had powerful effects on the political attitudes and activity of the poor, depressing their political involvement to levels much lower than that of other groups, the shift away from an ISI development model was only half of the massive institutional changes experienced by Mexican citizens during the decade. The transition from a one-party...

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6. Democratization, Political Competition, and Political Participation

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pp. 154-194

Most accounts of Mexico’s democratic transition emphasize its gradualism, suggesting perhaps that ordinary Mexicans had sufficient time to adapt their behavior to the emerging institutional context. However, the evolution of political competition in Mexico (in Oaxaca in particular) reveals that the transition to democracy was full of inconsistencies and paradoxes. For...

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7. Political Equality and Democracy in Mexico

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pp. 195-215

Whether in Chile’s exclusionary military regime or Mexico’s one-party electoral dictatorship, growing citizen political activism was a crucial factor in weakening authoritarian governments and ushering in democratic transitions throughout the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America. Both the rich and poor, college graduates and the uneducated, joined in...

Appendix A

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pp. 217-224

Appendix B

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pp. 225-233


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pp. 235-254


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pp. 255-272


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pp. 273-281

E-ISBN-13: 9780822973805
E-ISBN-10: 0822973804
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822960782
Print-ISBN-10: 0822960788

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Pitt Latin American Series