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Title page for ETD etd-04012009-130141

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Boidi, María Fernanda
Author's Email Address fernandaboidi@gmail.com
URN etd-04012009-130141
Title The Missing Connection: Trust in Legislatures in Latin America
Degree PhD
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Mitchell A. Seligson Committee Chair
Florence Faucher-King Committee Member
Jonathan Hiskey Committee Member
March J. Hetherington Committee Member
  • trust
  • legislatures
  • Latin America
  • public opinion
Date of Defense 2009-02-16
Availability unrestricted
Legislatures are among the least trusted political institutions in the world; but they are the heart of liberal democracy: no legislatures, no democracy. How are democracies to survive and prosper if citizens distrust one of its bedrock institutions? With this preoccupation in mind, this dissertation relies on a multi-method approach to explore the determinants of trust in legislatures in 18 countries of Latin America, the region of the world where legislatures are trusted the least.

Across Latin America, legislative bodies vary in several ways: some are called “Asambleas”, others“Congresos”, and still others “Parlamentos;” in Central America they are unicameral, while in the Southern Cone they are all bicameral; their number of members ranges from 57 in Costa Rica to 599 in Brazil. Despite those differences, these legislatures share a key feature: the connection between citizens and their institutions of representation is largely absent; individuals trust their legislatures very little.

My research aims at explaining the reasons for this missing connection between citizens and their institutions of representation. Using the 2008 round of the AmericasBarometer survey carried out by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) and qualitative research in Ecuador and Uruguay, I argue trust in legislatures is driven by citizens’ views of the processes that occur within the institution, the institution’s performance as perceived by citizens, the image of political parties that taints the views towards the legislatures they staff, and the features of the party systems existing in the countries.

The findings indicate that performance evaluation and political parties’ perceived responsiveness are the main forces driving trust in legislatures. In contrast with previous research pointing to citizens’ paradoxical rejection of congressional democratic processes as the source of disregard for the institution, views of these processes actually enhance support for legislatures; trust in the parliament only decreases when these processes are perceived as taken to their extreme. The impact of these individual-level variables remains unchanged when explored vis-à-vis the effects of the partisan context, although this context also exerts influence upon the levels of trust.

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