Surveys on Democracy in El Salvador

Earlier this month, El Faro published the results of a November 2010 survey conducted by Analítika Research & Marketing (ARM) that highlighted the public’s willingness to sacrifice democracy for greater economic stability and publicDemo security. Almost half the respondents said they would support a military coup to replace the democratic system in place if economic and security issues are not resolved. Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that the resolution of their problems, regardless of the means, is the government’s most important responsibility.

A 2008 survey by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) reported that 61% of Salvadorans consider the most pressing problem to be their economic situation, while 34% said security was their primary concern. Combined, 95% of Salvadorans list the economy or security as their top concern. Similarly, the Latinobarómetro’s annual poll found that only 18% report that they are satisfied with their economic status.

El Salvador’s numbers are in line with the rest of Latin America. The 2006 United Nations Report on Democracy in Latin America found that 56% of Latin Americans “believe that economic development is more important than democracy, and 55% would “support an authoritarian government if it resolved economic problems.”

At first glance, these surveys might seem to indicate that half of all Salvadorans are itching for an overthrow of the current government, with the economic situation not improving and security situation only becoming more serious. Fortunately, several other factors keep extremists from organizing a coup. For one, in December 2010, President Funes still enjoyed a 79% approval rating, indicating that while people are not happy about their economic situation, they don’t necessarily blame it on the Funes Administration. In addition, of those who are willing to sacrifice democracy for a better economy, at least some of them are also among the 18% who are satisfied with their economic status, but believe that an autocratic government is better. Finally, most Salvadorans over the age of 25 or 30 remember life during wartime and would probably not support another conflict.

What is most telling about the ARM survey is that 72% believe the government is responsible for resolving their problems, possibly indicating that Salvadorans could be more proactive in solving their own problems. Similarly, the willingness to trade democracy for a better economy and higher levels of security indicate a lack of commitment or confidence in the democratic process. This is born out in the low levels of public participation in local and central governments. And arguably, it’s the lack of public participation that allows those with economic and political power to protect their interests while the majority continues to struggle. Or put another way, it’s the widespread willingness to sacrifice democracy for economic development that leaves Salvadorans without either.

While the economic and security issues have not improved much since President Funes took office in June 2009, the administration and Legislative Assembly have taken steps to eliminate corruption and make the government more transparent. Now is a good time for more Salvadorans to get involved in their local and central governments, and contribute to building the economy and improving security.

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