Public support for Latin American integration: an econometric model for the assessment of individual and contextual factors
Over the last four decades, the issue of Latin American and Caribbean integration has become relevant and largely discussed. This cross-regional integration has however failed to be implemented and rather priority has been assigned to sub-regional or bilateral agreements. This has led to the coexistence of a variety of political coalitions, trade arrangements and sectoral cooperation within the region, rather than to the existence of an actual continental community. (1)
AEC, ALBA, ALADI, CAN, CARICOM, MERCOSUR, SICA, UNASUR, among others. OTHERS.
Factors that have hindered the realization of an actual "Latin American Union" (1) are diverse and mainly related to the lack of effective community institutions, the absence of macroeconomic coordination and low intra-regional trade (Rojas and Altmann, 2006). Likewise, large asymmetries between Latin American countries have been quoted as the major obstacle for the fulfillment of this integration (Rojas, 2006). That is, macroeconomic indicators, economic and political systems, employment rates, education, poverty, population, ethnic groups, income distribution, among many other variables, differ largely across the region. Heterogeneous contexts are observed not only between countries but within countries themselves.
On the other hand, some theorists have failed to apprehend the integration process by reducing it to a mere economic or political phenomenon, pointing to the need of including the social sphere into its treatment and understanding. According to these authors, integration is a project that is not restricted to political or governmental spheres but includes "another" integration, that is produced and reproduced in large private spaces where civil society resides, and therefore more inclusive and pluralistic approaches become relevant (Rojas, 2006). Others (Domínguez, 2003; Grandi, 1997; Serbin, 2008) go even further and claim that the integration process has been characterized by the absence of citizenship and a strong democracy deficit, with scarce or null impact of civil society on the structuring of the regional agenda, either by the direct participation or that of their representatives in parliament or congress.
According to Manenteau-Horta (1979), including people's opinions and psychology are crucial for assessing to what extent these opinions promote or block initiatives for unity between nations. The author maintains that the Latin American integration process has followed a different path, whereby governments have focused only in establishing an economic inter-regional interchange whereas public opinion has been completely neglected. Although as from the 1990s the integration process debate has gone beyond the economic dimension to include the social dimension, the latter still requiring further elaboration and presence within both the political and the academic discussion in Latin America.
INTRODUCING LATIN AMERICANS' OPINIONS
Latin Americans have shown different attitudes vis-a-vis integration, and although there is major support for economic alliances, political unification is not as popular (Latinobarometro, 2009). Movements calling for a more "social" integration (Mercosur: Social and Supportive, Another Integration is Possible, among others. See DelloBuono and Avila, 2007; Serbin, 2007, and over the last few years there have also been demonstrations against potential multilateral trade agreements--especially in sectors such as agriculture, labor unions and other social organizations.
Given these ideas, is Latin American integration as proposed by top government officials truly a citizen's aim? If so, who supports integration? Who rejects it? Which individual factors determine why a particular person has a positive or negative attitude towards unification? On the other hand, heterogeneity and asymmetries observed across Latin American countries have been mentioned as one of the major obstacles for implementing integration. Therefore, the question would be whether this heterogeneity between nations also plays a role in opinion on integration. Thus, the overarching question to be addressed by this article is which factors--either at the individual, national or cross level interaction--strongly influence Latin Americans' opinion regarding the economic and political integration of the region.
Latinobarometro's 2010 Report notes "globalization and relations with other countries have two dimensions: social and political elites of each country and increasingly the view of citizens" (2010: 29), (2) and the question on the "elitist bias" on regional integration processes becomes relevant (Cuatrés and Grunberg, 2007:11). Moreover, Seligson states that "in democracies, public opinion can count a great deal, and a strong opposition to integration might well spell the end of the regionalist movement in Latin America"(1999: 130). A model to assess civil society's opinion would therefore contribute and hopefully reveal new information for understanding this slow Latin American integration process.
THEORETICAL DISTINCTIONS AND PREVIOUS FINDINGS
Taking into account previous findings, at the end of this section I conclude that both individual characteristics and country features have been found to be efficient predictors of attitude towards integration across different studies.
CHARACTERISTICS AT THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL
Within the region, revealing information can be found in Latinobarometro's Reports. This organization has tracked Latin American integration and public support since 1997 by means of univariate-descriptive analysis. The 2007 report suggests that more than a half of Latin Americans agree to either economic or political integration. That is, 55% support a common parliament, 51% the elimination of taxes for intraregional trade and 44% the free movement of citizens within the region. The study also shows the heterogeneity of attitudes towards integration. Regarding the abovementioned political and economic issues, only 7 countries (3) show percentages above 50% whereas another 11 show minor discrepancies regarding these issues (Latinobarometer, 2007).
According to the 2010 report, economic integration is supported by a majority of Latin American countries (71% "somewhat favor" or are "very supportive"). This trend, however, differs across the region, South American countries being more supportive than those from Central America. Political integration, on the other hand, is less supported by Latin Americans, with a regional average of 59% and more variation between countries. Available data indicates that support of political integration has decreased since the study's first wave in 1997.
Overall, the Report refers to a "bipolar trend", since majorities support economic integration, whereas they tend to reject political cooperation and free movement of individuals (Latinobarometer, 2009). Exceptions are Argentineans and Brazilians, who display a more positive attitude towards political integration. Both countries have been leading and promoting the regional integrationist project during the last decades, hence these ideas may have been more accepted by citizens (Latinobarometro, 2010). The latter shows the influence of the country context on supporting integration.
In terms of individual characteristics, women (56%) and groups in lower socio-economic (64%) and educational levels (66%) tend to be less supportive of economic integration. According to this descriptive study, Latin American most excluded and least skilled groups tend to view regional integration less confidently.
Apart from studies conducted by Latinobarometro, Latin Americans' support of integration has not been substantially explored, especially in terms of multivariate analysis. An exception is a study by Seligson (1999) that focuses on individual-level factors as predictors of economic integration. The author concludes that "perceived benefits of integration" and "perception of personal and national economic situation" are important factors as well as socio-demographic variables such as gender and educational level. Confirming Latinobarometro's findings, gender and educational level have a significant effect on displaying a supportive or non-supportive stand on integration.
As to conclusions of Latinobarometro and Seligson for the Latin-American context, Anderson and Reichert (1996) and Gabel and Palmer (1995) show that citizens with low levels of competitive advantages (education and occupational skills) are likely to be negatively predisposed towards the European Union. On the other hand, studies carried out for the North American integrationist project (NAFTA) suggest that people made up their minds in this respect on the basis of arguments about trade and not about their own self-interest, suggesting that there might be a "rational public" at the individual level (Uslander, 1998:341). In a different study (Merolla et al., 2005), economic variables were tested and results show that in the United States and Canada more skilled individuals support NAFTA, whereas no significant effect was found for Mexican public opinion. Expected economic benefits and other utilitarian variables have been often pointed out as important factors in the opinion on integration and several scholars have concentrated their attention on these variables. Nevertheless, as suggested by Merolla and her colleagues, non-economic interests or variables such as nationalism were found to substantially influence opinions on NAFTA, to the point of canceling out the effects of economic interests.
The latter argument is also supported by Hooge and Marks (2004). The authors postulate that economic interest variables account for 15% of total variance in public opinion regarding the European Union but the influence of these factors is overshadowed by identity variables...