Newswise — Improving Salvadorians' attitudes toward civic participation, their fellow citizens and their democratic institutions is crucial to developing democratic stability in El Salvador, a country in which crime and a sense of insecurity prevail.

The Latin American Public Opinion Project released a comparative study in San Salvador, titled La Cultura Política de la Democracia en El Salvador: 2006. Findings include strong citizen support of democratic governments: 87.6 percent prefer electoral democracy and 72.7 percent choose a democratic government over authoritarianism. Yet, compared to 2004, there was an increase in the number of people favoring authoritarian values and higher mistrust of public institutions.

In El Salvador, security levels are low, the study says: 47.1 percent of those surveyed feel unsafe or somewhat unsafe because of the prevalence of crime in the country. Even more disturbing is that 70 percent of crime victims still do not report criminal acts because of fear of or mistrust in government institutions. As a result, there is a vicious cycle of violence, lack of personal safety and mistrust in democratic institutions and in the legitimacy of the political system. This trend also applies to how people in El Salvador perceive corruption: 43.1 percent consider corruption among government officials pervasive. Similarly, some sectors of the society show an important level of corruption tolerance. About 17 percent of victims of corruption condone acts of corruption. The data for 2006 shows, however, a slight decrease in corruption from 2004.

"Democracy faces many challenges in El Salvador, but when developing and implementing democratic governance programs, we cannot afford to lose citizen participation and trust in democratic institutions," writes Ricardo Córdova Macías of the "Fundación Dr. Guillermo Manuel Ungo" (FUNDAUNGO) and José Miguel Cruz, director of the El Salvador-based Instituto Universitario de Opinión Pública at the Universidad Centroamericana.

The poll was carried out in June and July 2006 among 1,729 Salvadorian adults. The study is part of a series of surveys by LAPOP's AmericasBarometer, an effort to measure democratic values and behaviors in the Americas using national probability samples of voting-age adults. The surveys are made possible with funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University.

Low levels of support for political parties are evidence of citizen mistrust. Macías and Cruz found that 71.6 percent of the people surveyed think it is a good idea to pass a law that requires political parties to publicize public and private funding and the way the money is spent. Currently, there is no such law in El Salvador. But Salvadorians in general have confidence in city governments. Although this trust has decreased since 2004, there is still fair level of citizen participation in local governments, especially when it comes to requesting assistance or help to solve local problems.

The publication and data are free to the public and can be obtained at

The surveys are directed by Mitchell A. Seligson, Centennial Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University. It covers 19 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America, including all in Central America.

LAPOP, a project group in the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University, was founded in the 1970s by Seligson to conduct scientific surveys of Latin American citizens about their opinions and behaviors related to building and strengthening democracies. AmericasBarometer now covers nearly the entire Western Hemisphere.

For more information, contact the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt University, or (615) 343-2818.

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