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Democracy, Governance, and Emigration Intentions in Latin America and the Caribbean


It is now clear that the global shift toward democracy in recent decades has resulted in a highly uneven democratic landscape in which the quality and performance of democracies around the world vary greatly. In an era characterized by increasingly open borders to goods, services, information, and, at times, labor, we argue that poorly performing, uneven democracies have become an important, yet underexplored, component in one’s emigration calculus. We test this argument through analysis of survey data across 22 Latin American countries and find strong and consistent evidence that both the quality of a democratic system and its ability to fulfill basic governance responsibilities influence the degree to which an individual considers emigration as a viable life strategy. These findings in turn have implications for the subsequent impact emigration may have on the democratic development of high migration communities.

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  1. These data are also drawn from the World Bank’s web source, “Migration and Remittances Factbook” compiled by Dilip Ratha and Zhimei Xu, Migration and Remittances Team, Development Prospects Group, World Bank. The Factbook’s permanent URL address is:, last accessed July 23, 2013.

  2. The AmericasBarometer is a product of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University. For more information on the 2008 data used in subsequent analyses for this study, see footnote 6. Complete information on the survey instrument, methodology, and data is available at

  3. Data accessed at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Latin America and the Caribbean region of the World Bank’s website (, last accessed May 20, 2012.

  4. Data accessed at World Bank’s “Governance and Anti-Corruption” website (, last accessed May 20, 2012.

  5. We can also include in this category the many works on the political refugees and forced exiles that occurred in the many Latin American authoritarian regimes of the 1970s and the internal wars of Central America during the 1980s (e.g., Hamilton and Chinchilla 1991; Stanley 1987; Wood et al. 2010).

  6. The data analyzed in this paper were gathered through 36,501 face-to-face interviews in the following countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. To facilitate the data analysis, the number of cases per country was standardized to 1,500 by multiplying the original count by a weighted factor. Thus, the total number of cases was reduced to 30,000. The sample populations included all individuals eligible to vote in their respective countries and were selected based on a probabilistic and stratified sampling strategy—cases were randomly selected and stratified at two levels in each country through a multistage stratified sample design. The first stratification allowed for the inclusion of every region in each country. The second allowed for the inclusion of populations living in both urban and rural areas. Respondent households were selected based on a clustered sample design, with individuals within each household selected for interview based on the closest birthday technique, with up to three call-backs per household were carried out.

  7. We also run separate models using 5- and 10-year averages for these measures and across all models find similar results.

  8. The response was originally coded as 1 for those answering “yes” and 2 for “no.” We subsequently recoded these values to 1 if yes and 0 otherwise, excluding missing values.

  9. As measured by the percentage of AmericasBarometer respondents within each country reporting at least one experience with corruption in the previous 12 months (2005–2006).

  10. The governance score reported in the table is for 2007 and is the average across the four governance indicators most relevant to our analysis: “voice and accountability,” “government effectiveness,” “rule of law,” and “control of corruption”. For more information on these measures, please see Kaufmann, et al. (1999) and the Bank’s “Governance and Anti-Corruption” website at, last accessed July 23, 2013.

  11. As measured by the average score from Freedom House (1994–2008) and (Polity 1994–2008).

  12. For further information on all of the variables used in the following analysis, see Appendix 1. The complete survey instrument is available through the Latin American Public Opinion Project’s website at, last accessed July 12, 2013.

  13. The items include television set, refrigerator, conventional telephone, cellular telephone, vehicle, microwave oven, motorcycle, running water, indoor plumbing, and computer.

  14. The index includes responses to a series of items asking respondents whether they have been asked for a bribe by a diverse group of public officials (e.g., teachers, police officers, health care officials). The reliability analysis for this index showed a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.669. For more information see, last accessed May 20, 2012.

  15. The contextual variable for emigration gauges the percentage of a country’s population residing abroad, calculated by dividing the number of migrants abroad by each country’s total population. For more information, see the United Nations Population Division Department of Economics and Social Affairs 2010 website at, last accessed July 11, 2013.

  16. Multilevel models presented in this paper were computed using the statistical package HLM 7. All variables were grand mean centered with the exception of “perception of insecurity,” which was group-mean centered given our theoretical expectations regarding its varying effects across countries. Democracy measures by Freedom House and Polity as well as our emigration contextual variable were grand mean centered because of their continuous characteristic.

  17. These time periods were 1999–2008 and 2004–2008.


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The authors would like to thank Javier Aparicio and Covadonga Meseguer for organizing and inviting us to be a part of the “Politics and Migration in Out-Migration Countries” workshop from which we received tremendous feedback on this work from all of the participants. We would also like to thank Katrina Burgess and Covadonga Meseguer for their tireless work as editors of this collection of works, as well as the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Hiskey.

Appendix 1: Principle Variables Used

Appendix 1: Principle Variables Used



  • Years of Education: (0–18+)

  • Age: (16–99)

  • Gender: (1 = female) (0 = male)

  • Wealth: (0 = None of nine items) (9 = all nine items)

  • Size of city of residence:

    • Rural community (=0; reference category)

    • Small town (=1)

    • City (=1)

    • Big city (=1)

    • National capital (=1)

Economic Perceptions

  • Personal economic situation: “How would you describe your personal economic situation? Would you say that it is very bad, bad, neither good nor bad, good, very good?” (0 = very bad; 100 = very good)

  • Macroeconomic situation: “How would you describe your country’s economic situation? Would you say that it is very bad, bad, neither good nor bad, good, very good?” (0 = very bad; 100 = very good)

Migration Networks

  • Remittances: “Do you or someone else living in your household receive remittances, that is, economic assistance from abroad?” (1 = yes; (0 = no)

  • Family members living abroad: “Do you have close relatives who lived before in this household and are now living abroad?

    • Does not have family member living abroad—reference category (=0)

    • Family member lives in USA (=1)

    • Family member lives/has lived in multiple countries (=1)

  • Communication with migrants: “How often do you communicate with them?

    • Does not have family member living abroad—reference category (=0)

    • Rarely or never (=1)

    • Frequently (=1)

Governance Indicators

  • Perception of insecurity: “Speaking of the neighborhood in which you live and thinking of the possibility of being assaulted or robbed, do you feel very safe, somewhat safe, somewhat unsafe or very unsafe?” (0 = “very safe”; 100 = “very unsafe”)

  • Perception of corruption: “Taking into account your own experience or what you have heard, corruption among public officials is very common, common, uncommon or very uncommon?” (0 = very uncommon; 100 = very common)

  • Crime victimization: “Now, changing the subject, have you been a victim of any type of crime in the past 12 months?” (1 = yes; 0 = no)

  • Corruption victimization: “(1) Did any police officer ask you for bribe during the last year? (2) During the last year, did any public official ask you for a bribe? (3) During the last year, to process any kind of document (such as a license, for example) did you have to pay any money above that required by law? (4) At work, did anyone ask you for an inappropriate payment during the last year? (5) Did you have to pay a bribe in court during the last year? (6) In order to receive attention in a hospital or a clinic during the last year, did you have to pay a bribe? (7) Did you have to pay a bribe at school during the last year?” (1 = yes to any of the above questions; 0 = all others)

  • Government efficacy index: Comprised of the following items, (1) “To what extent do you think the courts of justice in [name of the country] guarantee a fair trial?” (2) “To what extent do you respect the political institutions?” (3) “To what extent do you think that citizens’ basic rights are well protected by the political system in [name of the country]?” (4) “To what extent do you feel proud of living under the political system of (country)” (5) “To what extent do you think that citizens should support the political system of [name of the country]?” (0 = not at all; 100 = very much)

  • Satisfaction with democracy: “In general, would you say that you are very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied with the way democracy works in [name of the country]?” (0 = very dissatisfied; 100 = very satisfied)

National Level

  • Average freedom House score, 1994–2008

  • Average polity score, 1994–2008

  • Relative size of migrant population: 2010 migrant population as percentage of 2010 country population.

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Hiskey, J., Montalvo, J.D. & Orcés, D. Democracy, Governance, and Emigration Intentions in Latin America and the Caribbean. St Comp Int Dev 49, 89–111 (2014).

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