What should we make of this history? Given a chance, the left did eventually rise to power as expected, riding a wave of support from impoverished Brown and Black voters in nations where Whites were usually a minority. But just a few years later, many of these same nations voted the left out of power again. How could this happen? Are race and demography less important than the Dissident Right imagines?
The answer is no, race matters enormously, but election results are the product of several different forces that are pushing in different directions simultaneously. The first of these is the one that is most apparent from this history — pendulum effects that swing elections back and forth depending on the public’s view of the government’s performance. In Latin America’s case, just about every government has struggled with persistent poverty, crime, and corruption, so these pendulum effects tend to work against whoever is in power. The effect is so strong that, unlike the United States, major political parties often come and go, exiting the stage once their brand has become too tarnished.
Beneath these pendulum swings, however, there are strong structural forces at work that continue from election to election. Race-based voting is one of the most important. A close examination of elections held across the region repeatedly shows that leftists rely heavily on support from Browner and Blacker voters who are usually poor, while conservatives rely heavily on Whites and Whiter mestizos (who are typically over half European genetically).
One illustrative example is the 2018 election of Jair Bolsonaro, the new right-wing Brazilian president dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics.” Bolsonaro drew his support from the Whiter southern part of the nation and the socially conservative rural heartland. His leftist opponent did better in the northeast, which is mostly Black and mulatto, and the northwest, which is substantially Indigenous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bolsonaro also did better among Whites who live closer to the crime-ridden areas of major cities and a bit worse among Whites who live further south, a safe distance from the mayhem.
These racial patterns repeat themselves throughout the region. Argentina’s conservative president Mauricio Macri won his 2015 election by winning the Whiter heart of Buenos Aires and most of Whiter central Argentina. The conservative Sebastián Piñera won in the Whiter parts of central Chile and Santiago. The conservative Iván Duque Márquez won in Colombia in the Whiter sections of Bogotá and the center of the country.
The leftist Nicolás Maduro won his last competitive election in Venezuela in 2013 in heavily Brown and Black areas of the country, while losing the Whiter areas of the east and west. The leftist Evo Morales consistently wins reelection in Bolivia with the support of his Indigenous base in the Western highlands.
The exception that proves the rule is Uruguay, the Whitest nation on the continent. It has continued to support the Broad Front, a leftist coalition that includes socialists and communists and touts legalized pot, abortion, and same-sex marriage among its policy achievements. Such leftist politics are typical of Whiter nations that have yet to experience the full benefits of diversity.
In most other Latin American nations, these racial voting patterns persist despite the presence of an important moderating influence — a large mixed-race population that seems resistant to explicitly race-based political appeals. Leftist academics bemoan this resistance, usually attributing it to a lack of social awareness and widespread acceptance of the theories of mestizaje and racial democracy, which argue that mixed-race societies do not suffer the same levels of racism and discrimination as other places like the United States.
Surveys of Latin America’s poor do not support this notion. Latin America’s mixed-race populations are well aware of existing racial disparities, they just do not strongly identify with them. This points to a different explanation that is less favored by leftists: genetic similarity theory, which says that people are more altruistic and less hostile to those who are genetically similar. This explanation is borne out by interviews with mixed-race voters.
“Do I value my Blackness? Of course! I take pride in it,” said one Brazilian mulatto in an interview. “But am I only Black? No! I also am descended from Indians and from Europeans. Should I disdain these heritages? Why shouldn’t I value all my heritages? Why should I pretend I only have one heritage when this is just not true?” Read more