The Success of the Left in Latin America

Untainted Parties, Market Reforms, and Voting Behavior

Rosario Queirolo

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

Why, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, have so many Latin American countries elected governments identifying themselves with the ideological Left? In The Success of the Left in Latin America: Untainted Parties, Market Reforms, and Voting Behavior, Rosario Queirolo argues that the “pink tide” that swept across Latin America beginning in the late 1990s—with the election of a growing number of leftist political candidates to public office—was caused by the intent of voters to punish political parties unable to improve the economic well-being of their electorates. She argues that Latin Americans vote based on performance, ousting those whom they perceive as responsible for economic downturns, and ushering into power those in the “untainted opposition,” which has been the Left in most Latin American countries.

Queirolo argues that the effects of neoliberal economic reforms did not produce more votes for political parties on the Left. Rather, the key variable is unemployment. Left-leaning parties in Latin America increase their electoral chances when unemployment is high. In addition to explaining recent electoral successes of leftist parties, The Success of the Left in Latin America also undermines a dominant scholarly view of Latin Americans as random and unpredictable voters by showing how the electorate at the polls holds politicians accountable.

Rosario Queirolo is associate professor in the Department of Political Sciences, Universidad Católica del Uruguay.

“Rosario Queirolo’s The Success of the Left in Latin America: Untainted Parties, Market Reforms, and Voting Behavior makes a valuable contribution to the study of Latin American politics and of comparative politics more generally. Queirolo makes a compelling argument that the general shift to the Left in Latin America was less a straightforward protest against neoliberal policies but more strongly a reaction to negative economic performance. Enriched with extensive survey data, her book is authoritative and persuasive.” — Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, Vanderbilt University

“This book breaks new ground in testing the origins of Latin America’s political turn to the Left, exploring the effects of discontent with government performance and market reform policies. Queirolo demonstrates that Latin America has experienced previous periods of leftist electoral success and that the most recent wave is more than a simple backlash against neoliberal reforms. This empirically rich study is a most welcome addition to the growing body of work on voting behavior in Latin America and its relationship to policy and performance.” — Kenneth M. Roberts, Cornell University

“This careful, comprehensive investigation makes an important contribution: It shows that the recent electoral success of the Latin American left did not arise from an ideological backlash against neoliberalism, but rather from a pragmatic quest for economic improvement. The book is a significant addition to the literature.” — Kurt Weyland, Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Politics, University of Texas at Austin


“Many have argued the success of the Left [in Latin America] is due to a rejection of neoliberal reforms, but Queirolo demonstrates how ‘citizens in the region are more outcome than policy oriented.’ Another assumption she successfully challenges is that Latin American electoral behavior is clientelistic and personalistic; however, she shows how in many cases the electorate is sophisticated in demanding accountability.” — Choice