Edurne Zoco, "Legislators'
Positions and Party System Competition in Central America: A
Comparative Analysis," Party Politics, 12 (March,
What political dimensions are relevant in Central America?
What are the political differences between the two major
parties within Central American countries? This article
conducts a spatial analysis of Central American parties
while relying on the assumption that the left-right
continuum is a valid instrument with which to organize
political competition at the elite (i.e. legislator) level
in these countries even though the meaning of 'left' and
'right' in Central America might differ from the traditional
connotation of these terms in European and North American
contexts. Moreover, the article analyzes the dimensions of
political competition in Central America at both individual
(legislator) and aggregate (political party) levels to show
the absence of a straightforward correspondence between the
number and substance of political dimensions dividing
legislators and the number and substance of dimensions of
party competition. This analysis thus adds new insight to
the discussion about the role of agency (i.e. parties and
political elites) in affecting the way that cleavages occur
in the political domain. The article also shows the absence
of a clear correspondence between (a) the degree of
intensity of political competition (polarization) and (b)
the number and substance of the politically relevant
dimensions of competition in each country, implying that
strongly polarized party systems are not always associated
with a large number or with specific types (e.g. military,
economic) of political dimensions.
Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Left-right placement of legislators and parties in
Table 2. Reliability measures (all countries)
Table 3. Factor analysis results
Table 4. Discriminant analysis results: Enter method
Table 5. Ideological polarization
Appendix I. Sample and weights
Appendix II. List of Variables
First Paragraph of Conclusion:
The exploratory analysis reported here reveals that
legislators and party systems in Central America are
ideologically structured around 'left' and 'right' concepts,
contradicting an image of non-ideological politicians and
parties, an image that formerly served as the basis for
denying the validity of spatial analysis as an approach to
studying this region. The analysis shows how issues of
interest to legislators bundle together, generating
different factors in every country, and how these factors
cluster together and/or polarize legislators' opinions.
Discriminant analyses reveal, however, that only some of
these attitudinal factors divide the major parties'
legislators in the various national systems, and that
military and economic issues are by far the most important
and consistent sources of party division in Central America.
Thus, it seems that some attitudinal differences evident at
the level of individual legislators are over-represented in
some party systems - such as military issues in El Salvador
- while other issues are under-represented, such as economic
issues in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Furthermore, we have
seen evidence of uneven levels of polarization in the
Central American region, though it is generally greater than
is found in the older democracies of western Europe.
Finally, results suggest that there is no clear relationship
between the substance and number of political dimensions and
the ideological intensity of political competition. Future
research should focus on these themes.