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Cablegate: 2006 Report On the Political Culture of Democracy


DE RUEHMU #1866/01 2201740
P 081740Z AUG 07




E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (U) The newly-published 2006 Report on Political Culture of Democracy in Nicaragua presents important data on the long-term patterns of public opinion regarding democracy, corruption, economic well-being, and the effectiveness of national vs. municipal government. Produced under USAID auspices, the report is based on data gathered in June 2006. The data highlights Nicaraguans, low support for democracy and relatively high tolerance for corruption, facts the authors attribute to the constant state of confrontation between the executive and legislative branches that characterized the Bolanos administration, the demoralizing effects of the PLC-FSLN pact, and the lack of understanding of the definition of democracy. At a time when basic freedoms are under assault in several Latin American nations, the report presents important information on the democratic values of Nicaraguan society. Additional events to publicize the information contained in the report are planned for the end of October or the beginning of November in both the capital and other university cities throughout the country. End Summary.

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2. (U) The data indicates that, in addition to having had one of the lowest levels of preexisting support for the political system, the Nicaraguan people,s support of the country's current political system dipped since the previous study in 2004. Civic participation dropped from 24 percent to 22 percent and overall support for the political system plummeted from 50 percent to 45 percent. Confidence in political parties inched up but confidence in elections dropped.

Electoral and Civic Participation

3. (U) Participation in national elections has been reasonably high in Nicaragua, with an average abstention rate of only 21 percent; however, the abstention rate in municipal and departmental elections is generally far higher. Of the respondents who did not participate in the 2001 presidential election, 46 percent said that they did not vote because of lack of an official voter registration card and only 17 percent because of lack of interest. Citizens aged 26 or over were twice as likely to vote as those aged 16-25, and the age group which participated most was 36-45 year olds. Middle class participants out-voted those of lower or higher income. FSLN supporters were slightly more likely to vote than PLC supporters, and members of both groups were significantly more likely to vote than those who supported other parties.

4. (U) The incidence of civic participation in Nicaragua is low, with only religious gatherings- which 55 percent of the population attended - showing widespread attendance. Educational meetings were the second most well-attended, with 28 percent participation, but community, political, professional and union gatherings all had a 15 percent participation rate, or less.

Support for Democracy

5. (U) Figures measuring Nicaraguans, support for democracy were troubling. The report concludes that 25 percent of Nicaraguans consistently supports democracy, 27 percent inconsistently supports democracy, 32 percent would be willing to break with democracy, and 16 percent consistently supports authoritarianism. The authors attributed this disturbing finding to the constant state of confrontation between the executive and legislative branches that characterized the Bolanos administration, as well as the demoralizing effects of the PLC-FSLN pact. 43 percent rated the work of President Bolanos as "bad" or "very bad", and only 8 percent rated it as "good" or "very good". The report also suggests that there is significant confusion about the meaning of democracy: 30 percent had a higher level of understanding of the term and 17 percent an intermediate understanding, but 21 percent had little understanding and 32 percent had no understanding.


7. (U) Public consciousness of corruption heightened in recent years, in part because former President Bolanos made fighting corruption, specifically prosecuting former President and now convicted felon Arnaldo Aleman, the centerpiece of his political agenda. Nevertheless, the public perception of government corruption has not improved: 90 percent of Nicaraguans believe corruption is very or somewhat common among public servants, but relatively low levels felt themselves victimized by corruption. Rural inhabitants tended to perceive a slightly lower level of corruption than urban dwellers. The most commonly experienced forms of corruption were bribery by the courts, at 23 percent, with bribery by the municipality at 13 percent. The least experienced forms were bribery by the police, at 7 percent, and bribery by a public employee, at 4 percent. In the last twelve months, on average, 18 percent of participants had been victimized by corruption. The most frequent victims were males and those respondents with the least resources. Participants were more likely to approve of government officials acting outside the law if they themselves had been a victim of a crime or lived in an insecure place.

Confidence in Governmental Institutions

8. (U) Support for most institutions and overall support for the system dropped since the previous report in 2004. When comparing specific institutions, the Catholic Church received the highest rating, followed by the media, army, national police, and townships. Political parties received the lowest confidence ratings, below the central government, the Supreme Court, Public Prosecutor's office, and National Assembly. The Permanent Commission on Human Rights (DDHH), the Supreme Electoral Council, Attorney General, justice system, and elections, fell in the middle.


9. (U) Interviewees, opinion of the country's economic situation was closely associated with their overall faith in the system. 66 percent of Nicaraguans rated the country's economy as "bad" or "very bad", while only 29 percent rated it as "neither good nor bad" and 5 percent as "good" or "very good". Out of ten categories, unemployment (27 percent), poverty (25 percent), economic issues (15 percent), and corruption (9 percent) were identified as the gravest problems facing the country, contrasting with the lack of health services (1 percent), protests (1 percent), and transportation (2 percent) as the least important.

Local Government

10. (U) Government offices at the municipal level received much higher ratings than the national government: of the 30 percent of citizens who did business at the town level, a relatively high 76 percent felt that they were treated very well, and 86 percent had their business resolved satisfactorily. Nevertheless, scores in some categories, such as the townships' management of funds, did not inspire confidence in the majority of respondents. Residents of medium sized cities tended to give the highest approval ratings and those from rural areas the lowest, likely because of infrequent access to services. Of those surveyed, 11 percent had attended a municipal or town forum within the last year, with smaller communities demonstrating a higher level of participation.

International Comparison

11. (U) Out of the fifteen Latin American countries included in the survey, Nicaragua showed the same trends of overall interpretations of democracy as Honduras and Guatemala, but varied widely from neighboring Costa Rica, which the report concluded was nearly twice as likely to support a stable democracy. Nicaragua scored within the bottom third of countries surveyed for its citizens' overall support for the system and local government, and also for those who felt victimized by corruption.


12. (U) The 2006 Report on the Political Culture of
Democracy in Nicaragua was conducted throughout Latin America
with local partner the University of Central America, with
direction from the University of Vanderbilt Center for the
Americas' Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), and
sponsorship by USAID. The Nicaraguan project is one of
fifteen completed by LAPOP biannually throughout Latin
America. The margin of error is plus/minus 2.5% percent and
the level of confidence is 95 percent. For the purposes of
this cable the figures cited are rounded to the nearest whole

Composition of Interviewees

13. (U) The Nicaraguan LAPOP collected data from more than
1,700 interviews which took place between June 11, 2006 and
June 28, 2006 with participants who differed in age, gender,
race, religion, and origin. A little more than a third of
those interviewed was aged from 16-25 years old and nearly a
fourth was aged from 26-35 years old, reflecting the overall
age distribution of the Nicaraguan population. 35 percent
had completed primary education, 43 percent secondary
education, and 12 percent higher education, while 9 percent
had no formal education. In terms of religion, 63 percent of
participants identified themselves as Catholic and 20 percent
as Evangelical, while 12 percent was not affiliated with any
religion. 71 percent, 26 percent, 2 percent and 1 percent
respectively identified themselves as Mestizo, White, Black
or Afro-Caribbean, and Indigenous. Monthly household income
ranged from the 31 percent that earned fewer than 900
Cordobas, to the 52 percent that earned between 900 and 5300
Cordobas, to the 8 percent that earned more that earned above
5,300 Cordobas.


14. (SBU) Although the results of the LAPOP study show
significant long-term trends, we believe that if the study
were repeated today, with post-election data, much of the
data would show additional downwards trends in support of the
political system and faith in democracy. A SID-Gallup Poll
based on data gathered from June 5 to June 12, 2007 showed
that the Nicaraguan public has even less faith in the system
and that President Ortega,s personal popularity had
plummeted. (reftel) End Comment.

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