Insecure Democracy: Risk, Vulnerability and Democratic Rights in Brazil
Latin American nations have undergone dramatic transitions to democracy and open markets in recent decades. Such changes have exposed citizens to high levels of economic volatility and insecurity, while at the same time expanding the possibilities for citizens to hold governments to account and to demand compensation for such hardships. Recent research indicates that even as economic insecurity has risen and social insurance programs have been retrenched, civil society in Latin America has remained relatively quiescent, with low levels of political participation. This paper tests the hypothesis that insecurity (defined as exposure to risk and lack of adequate means to hedge that risk) has a dampening effect on citizens’ propensity to engage in different forms of political life, such as attending municipal meetings and neighborhood organizations, and engaging in protest. Data from a 2009 nation-wide survey in Brazil reveal that individuals who have access to more extensive means of risk protection, all else being equal, are systematically more likely to participate actively in the more moderate and sustained forms of democratic politics, such as neighborhood associations and municipal meetings. This is not the case for protest activity, however, which is likely to entail very different calculations of risk and reward. The results of the analysis are preliminary, but indicate a sharp cleavage of insecurity that coincides with widening fault lines of political engagement in Brazil.