Since 1995, the non-profit organization Corporación Latinobarómetro has conducted surveys in Latin America concerning democracy and representation. At first glance, the 2016 report reveals a deep crisis in the region’s democratic regimes. The organization highlights the problem in the report’s title: “The decline of democracy.” Apparently, just one-third of Brazilians prefer democracy to other forms of power. In a period in which the elected president has been ousted in a questionable impeachment process, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
The truth, however, is more nuanced than the Latinobarómetro numbers would otherwise suggest. For its report, the organization asks respondents to answer which of the following sentences they agreed with the most:
- Democracy is preferable to any other form of government
- In some circumstances, an authoritarian government could be better than a democratic one
- For people in general, it doesn’t matter whether or not a regime is democratic
- I don’t know/I don’t want to answer
The organization then considered the number of people that chose the first sentence to calculate the country’s appreciation for democracy. In 2016, Brazil was ranked near the bottom compared to all other countries in which the survey was conducted. Only Guatemala outranked Brazil.
Yet according to José Alváro Moisés, a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), the data offered by the Latinobarómetro must be interpreted carefully. “For several years, the research we have conducted at USP shows that more than 70 percent of Brazilians want democratic governments. What the Latinobarómetro survey shows is a deep disenchantment with how the institutions work – especially Congress,” he says.
According to Moisés, one simple question does not necessarily reflect a people’s view of democracy. “That direct question is important, but so are other indirect questions, which offer a better view on that. Do people want the military back? Do they like the idea of only one political party? Do they defend the state controlling unions? Those questions show how democratic a person is.” Being critical of democracy, says the professor, is a characteristic of those who cherish it the most.
In Brazil, only small groups support preposterous ideas like military intervention. But overall, everyone is pretty unhappy with how democracy is being handled in our country.