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The Salience of Ideology: Fifteen Years of Presidential Elections in El Salvador

Author(s): Dinorah Azpuru

Source: Latin American Politics and Society, Vol. 52, No. 2 (Summer 2010), pp. 103-138
Published by: Distributed by Wiley on behalf of the Center for Latin American Studies at the
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The Salience ofIdeology:
in El Salvador


The victoryof the FMLN in El Salvador's presidentialelections of

March2009 has been consideredremarkable,given the dominance
of ARENAin fourconsecutivepresidentialraces from1989 to 2004.
Using individual-leveldata, this articleexamines the determinants
of electoralsupportforboth partiesover the past 15 years.Several
models illuminatesome of the factorsthatled to ARENA'S
dominanceand ultimatedefeat.A combinationof variablesassoci-
ated with different theoreticalmodels of votinghelps explain the
choices made by Salvadoranvotersover the years.The most con-
sistentpredictorsof vote have been voters'self-reported ideology
and theirevaluationof the incumbentgovernment'sperformance.
The 2009 turnaroundrelatesto fundamentalchanges in the national
and internationalcontext,and also to the selectionof candidates.

almosttwodecadesofconsecutive electoral bythe

conservative Alianza RepublicanaNacionalista(ARENA),an
alternation in executivepowertookplace in El SalvadorinJune
2009,after ARENA lost thepresidentialelectionheldon March15 ofthat
year.Although ARENA had obtained its first
victory in the 1989 elec-
tions,its dominance acquiredparticular relevance in the postconflict
periodfollowing country's civil
12-year war,given thatARENAand
the main oppositionparty,the FrenteFarabundoMartípara la Lib-
eraciónNacional(FMLN),represented the two warringactorsthat
signedcomprehensive peace accordsin early1992.
The FMLN'svictory in the March2009 presidential race has been
called"historic"(Colburn2009,Ordaz2009)and "theultimate testofthe
democratic system in El Salvador"(Arnson 2009). Furthermore, itcould
be thought of as thecompletion of thetwo-turnover testsuggestedby
Huntington (1991).1Theresulthas also beendeemedsurprising because
of uncertainties aboutthe outcomethathad been presentbeforethe
electionitself(Zamora2009).Although earlypollshad giventheFMLN
thelead,thedistancebetweenARENAand theFMLNhad shrunkcon-
siderably in theweeksleadingup to theelection,and particularly after
theothertwocontending partieswithdrew from the race.2Even as late
as twoweeksbeforetheelection, aboutone-fifth ofthevotersremained

© 2010University

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undecided.3Ultimately, the electionswere close: the FMLNobtained

51.3 percent of the validvoteand ARENA48.7 percent, withan actual
difference of69,412votes.4
Throughthe use of quantitative analysis,this articleseeks to
uncoverthefactors thatmayhave contributed to theFMLNvictory in
the2009presidential election.The picturewould not be complete, how-
ever,without also lookingintothefactors thathelpedARENAto main-
tainitsgripon powerforalmosttwodecades.5The articlealso seeksto
explorethedimensions of politicalideologyin El Salvadorand to test
how muchideologymayhave been a defining factorin presidential
Therehave been qualitative interpretations of thefactors thatcon-
tributed to thecontinueddominanceof ARENA,butthetopichas not
been fullyaddressedusingempirical data,and particularly multivariate
analysis.Usingindividual-level datagathered afterthepresidential elec-
tionsof1994,1999,and 2004,thisstudyappliesdifferent logisticregres-
sionmodelsto gaugethevariablesthatplayeda rolein thesuccessof
ARENA - and hencethelack of successof theFMLN.Subsequently, it
uses a similarlogisticregression modelto analyzedatafroma pre-elec-
toralsurveyin 2009 and to tryto explainwhythe tablesturnedon
ARENA.The regression modelsuse thereported voteor thevoteinten-
tionforthetwomajorpartiesas dependent variables.6Mostoftheinde-
pendent variables are drawn from the existing literatureon voting
behavior, butsomeare specificto thecontextofthedifferent elections
in El Salvador.
Researchon electoral behaviorand publicopinionin Central Amer-
ica was limited throughout most of the twentieth century, but with the
arrivalof thethirdwave of democracy, electoralpoliticshave rapidly
gainedrelevance. Analysis ofthepatterns ofelectoral behaviorthatmay
have developedovertheyearscan help deepenunderstanding of the
politicalprocess in El Salvador. Such analysisalso serves a purposein
thelargercontextof politicalscienceresearch;itrepresents a postcon-
flictcase in whichthewarring factionschose to substitute ballotsfor
bulletsaftera longand violentcivilwar.
The 2009victory of theFMLN,furthermore, represents one of the
fewcases in thirdwave democracies in whicha former guerrillagroup
has gainedpowerthroughfreeand competitive elections.Fromthe
perspective, a betterunderstanding of theelectoralper-
formance of ARENAand the FMLNis also significant because El Sal-
vadorrepresents a postauthoritarian setting where two well-defined ide-
ologicalparties have achieved a high degree of institutionalization
(Colburn2009; Cordovaet al. 2007). In addition,understanding the
uninterrupted electoralvictoriesof ARENA can help to shed lighton the
studyofdominant-party systems. Up to 2009,El Salvadorwas one ofthe

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fewcountries in LatinAmerica
wherean alternationofexecutivepower
had notoccurredsincetheinception ofthethirdwave ofdemocratiza-
tion.7Froma methodological thisstudycan further
perspective, con-
tributeto establishingwhetherthe applicationof models of voting
behaviorthathavebeen used in advanceddemocracies are suitablefor

Understanding Voting Behavior

Empirical studiesof electoralbehaviorhave been in vogue sincethe
1960s,when improvedsurveymethodsallowedfornew avenuesof
research. Muchof the researchhas focusedon advanceddemocracies
(Dalton2008;Converse2006;Calvert2002;Woshinsky 2008).By com-
parison, theanalysis ofvoting behavior inthirdwavedemocracies hasnot
beenveryextensive (Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000,210). Someschol-
arshaveclaimedthatwithsomeadditions andadjustments, theparadigms
used to studydevelopeddemocracies can also be usefulforanalyzing
votingpatterns in developing democracies (Molinaand Pérez2004).
The mainmodelsof votingused in studying advancedindustrial
democracies are thesociologicalor socialgroupmodel,thesociopsy-
chologicalmodel, and the rationalchoice model (Calvert2002;
Echegaray2005;Dalton2008). In particular countries and at different
points in time, diverse explanations account forthe way people vote.
Barnes(1997) recallsthateven in advanceddemocracies thetrendsof
voting behavior are not universal, and that contemporary patterns show
influences ofboththepastand thepresent.
Itis important to recallbriefly someofthevariablesthathavebeen
used to measurecitizens'votingpreferences in the aforementioned
voting choice models. The sociologicalapproachlooksatthelong-term
predispositions of individuals derivedfromtheirsocialposition(Dalton
2008).According to thismodel,in orderto makea decision,a person
uses sociologicalcues, such as the endorsement givenby his or her
religious or class cleavage to a particularparty.This approachpre-
sumes thatsocial characteristics or attachments to particular groups
serveas the foundation fordemocratic mobilization. Social class and
religionhave been thecorevariablesin thismodel,butotherfactors,
suchas voters'place ofresidence, gender,race,and generational cleav-
ages, have also been incorporated. Education has also been treatedas
part of thismodel in order to differentiatecitizenswho may have more
or less accessto information.
The sociopsychological model,sometimesalso referred to as the
MichiganModel, is based on the so-called funnel of causality.It con-
tendsthatbroadsocialconditions, suchas thoseused in thesociologi-
cal model,haveless influence on voters'decisionsthantheirindividual

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attitudes.Thismodelarguesthatan individual's votefora certainpolit-

ical partyis nota byproduct ofgroupcharacteristics butrather a factor
oftheperson'sown attachment to a party.
The rationalchoicemodel,originally proposedby Downs in 1957,
has diversifiedintoseveraltrendsin whichthenotionofmaterial inter-
estofvotersis central. Thismodelcontends thatissuevotingtakesplace
whenpartiesand candidates mobilizecitizensby raisingand discussing
issuesthatmaybe ofconcerntothegeneralpublic(Dalton2008).A can-
didate'sappealandtheassessment ofgovernment performance areseen
as short-term forcesthathave an indirectimpact on electoral decisions
(Echegaray 2005,10). Thismodelalso emphasizestheidea thatcitizens
ultimately base theirdecisionon the existingconditions in theirenvi-
ronment, particularly thestateoftheeconomy(Echegaray 2005,14).
Whilea plurality ofexplanations accountforthevotingbehaviorof
citizens,it is recognizedoverallthatnowadaysvotersin advanced
democracies aremoreinfluenced byissues,particularly economicones.
Byfocusing on issuesand assessingthedifferences betweenpartyplat-
formsand candidateoffers, citizenscan trimdownthecomplexworld
of politicsand facilitate theirvotingdecision(Daltonand Wattenberg
1993).Somescholarshavesuggested thatissuevotinghasbecomemore
relevant in developeddemocracies as thelevelof educationhas risen,
sinceissuevoterstendto be moresophisticated, educated,and active
thannonissuevoters(Carminesand Stimson1980).
As thebasis of politicalmobilization has becomemoreindividual-
alistissues,such as participation and environmental protection, have
gainedstrength in recentdecades.8 Yet the economy continues to be
one of themostsalientissuesforvoters.The decisionto casta ballot
fora particular partyor candidatemaybe influenced by an individual's
personal economic situation or
(egotropic pocketbook voting)or hisor
herevaluation ofthestateofthenationaleconomy(sociotropic or col-
lectivevoting)(Lewis-Beck and Stegmaier 2000).
Votersmayfocuson eitherpositionissuesor performance issues.
Theymay look at the policygoals of the partiesand candidates (their
position on the or
issues), mayjudge theirperformance by assessing
how effectively theypursuetheirpoliticalgoals.Furthermore, thiseval-
uationmaybe categorized as eitherretrospective or prospective; it is
consideredto be retrospective whenfocusedon thepastperformance
of the incumbent government and prospective when focusedon the
expectations thatcitizens may have about thepotential performance of
alternative candidatesand partieson the ballot(Dalton2008). Candi-
date-basedvotinghas been seen as less positivethanissuevoting,but
recentvotingliterature holdsthat"candidate evaluations are notneces-
sarilysuperficial,emotional, or purely short-term. Voters mayfocuson

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the personalqualitiesof a candidateto gain important information

aboutcharacteristics relevant to assessinghow theindividual willper-
formin office" (Dalton2008,207).
Ideologyhas been linkedto issuevotinginWestern democracies. It
can be considered a superissue, whichprovidesvoterswitha summary
of parties'positionson different issues.9Rationalchoice models of
voting consider ideology a sortof blueprint thathelpsindividuals make
sense of thepoliticalworldby simplifying complex, multidimensional
policypositions(Calvert2002).In advancedindustrial democracies, the
left-to-rightideologicalscale spans a verywide rangeof issues.10 The
contention regarding theroleofthestate,however, definessomeofthe
maindivergences betweentheextremes of theideologicalcontinuum,
withtheleftadvocating a greaterroleby thestateand therightsup-
porting less government intervention in theeconomy.11
Although variablesin the different modelsof votingcontinueto
playa rolein explaining how citizensin advanceddemocracies vote,
the relevanceof social variables,such as religionand class, and of
sociopsychological variables, suchas partyidentification, has decreased
as theimportance ofissuevotinghas increased. The differentmodelsof
votingalso recognizethatexternalstimuli, such as themediaand the
activities ofcampaigns, can influence citizens'decisionsmorethantra-
ditionallinksto socialgroupings or parties.
In comparison withadvanceddemocracies, the applicationof the
different votingmodelsto LatinAmericahas been limited. Severalstud-
ies have testedthe relevanceof economicvotingin the region
(Echegaray 2005;Weyland2003;Domínguezand McCann1995),butas
Echegaray pointsout,theunavailability of datahas limited"truly com-
prehensiveanalyses,"includingtimeseries,multivariate, and better-
specifiedstudiesof the determinants of vote (2005, 21). Echegaray
argues that fundamental theoretical assumptions havealso been missing
frommoststudiesofelectoralchoicein theregion.
In reference to ideology,researchin LatinAmericahas especially
focusedon thestudyoftheideologicalpositioning ofpoliticalpartiesor
on the ideologicalstanceof partyelitesand legislators (Fowler1997;
Mainwaring 1999;González and Queirolo 2008).In contrast,fewempir-
icalstudieshavebeen conductedto explorecitizens'ideologyor to test
whether ideologyis a determinant ofelectoraloutcomesin theregion.
Colomer(2005) notesthattheleft-right dimension has traditionally
been dismissedby studentsof politicsin LatinAmericancountries,
whereithas longbeen supposedthatpoliticalpartiesare notideologi-
callyorientedbutinsteaddrivenby populist,personalistic, and clien-
telisticideals.Colomeruses Latinobarometer data to determine ifciti-
zens'self-placement intheleft-right scalehad anyassociation withtheir
partypreference, and findsthatLatinAmericanvotersconsistently

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landedon theleft-right dimension buthad highlevelsofpoliticalalien-

ationin relation to thepartysystem.
Seligson(2007) examinesdata fromthe AmericasBarometer and
concludesthatin Nicaragua, CostaRica,Chile,and El Salvador, thevote
forcertainpoliticalpartieswas actuallyassociatedwiththeself-place-
mentof citizenson the left-to-right scale. Echegaray(2005) contends
thatideologyhas been considereda tangential issueinsteadof partof
thecore explanation of votingchoicein LatinAmerica.He pointsout
thattheshortage ofdatahas limited empiricalanalyses, butthatthescat-
tereddata availablesuggestthatLatinAmerican citizensmakelimited
use of ideologicallabels(38). In theirresearchon theVenezuelanand
Mexicanelections, Weyland(2003) and Domínguezand McCann(1995)
includeas controlvariablesquestionsthattap voters'beliefsaboutthe
roleofthestate(a proxyforideology).Bothstudiesfindthatideology
had a weak impacton votingchoices.
El Salvadorprovidesan interesting case to examinewhetherthere
betweencitizens'ideologyand partychoiceintheelec-
is a relationship
tions,and whetherthatrelationship holdsonce othervariablescome
intoplay.The country's civilwar becamean ideologicalconflict that
polarizedSalvadoransociety(Cañas and Dada 1999).Two ofthemain
warring actors,the guerrillas and the businesselites,formedpolitical
partiesidentified withleftand rightideologicalpositions.12 Those par-
ties have become predominant as the Salvadoranpoliticalsystem
increasingly movestowarda two-party system(Colburn2009;Cordova
etal. 2007).Evenbeforethe2009elections, thetwopartiesconcentrated
82 percent ofthevoteinthepresidential raceand 68 percentofthevote
in thelegislativeand municipal elections(Ramosand Loya2008).

Elections in Postconflict El Salvador

In contrastto otherpostconflict wheredemocracy
societies, buildinghas
oftenhad to startfromscratch and foundingelectionshavebeen organ-
ized by international actors,El Salvadoralreadyhad formalelectoral
andprocedures inplacebythetimethePeace Accordswere
signed in January 1992 (Arnson and Azpuru2008).Electionsfora Con-
stituentAssembly were held in 1982,and presidential electionstook
place in 1984 and 1989- Many scholars consideredthose elections
to be
less thanperfect becausein thecontextoftheongoingcivilwar,ideo-
logical pluralismwas limited,and the military retaineda lingering
amountof power over the electedcivilianauthorities (Barnes 1998;
Boothand Seligson1995;Karl1995).
WhenthePeace Accordsweresigned,theobstaclesfortheelectoral
participationof diverseideologicalfactionswerelifted, as wereimpor-
tantrestrictionsto socialorganizationand politicalrights(Azpuruet al.

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2007). The firstpostconflict presidentialelectionsin El Salvador

occurred inMarch1994.Baloyra-Herp (1995)assertsthatitwas notpos-
sibleto considertheSalvadoran electionsof1994as anything otherthan
competitive, and Dada (1994) acknowledges that for thefirst time,the
wholerangeofpoliticalforcescompeted in the race.
The FMLNparticipated in a coalitionwiththeDemocratic Conver-
gence(CD) andtheNationalRevolutionary Movement (MNR),andnom-
inatedRubénZamoraas itspresidential candidate, whileARENAnomi-
natedArmando Calderón.In a runoff electionheldinAprilofthesame
year,ARENAended up winning, with68.35 percentof the vote;the
FMLNobtained31.65percent.In the1999elections, theFMLNwas also
partofa coalition withtheSocialChristian Unionparty(USC) and nom-
inatedFacundoGuardado,one of theleadersof theformer guerrillas,
as itspresidential candidate.ARENAnominated FranciscoFlores,who
won thefirst-round electionwith51.96percentofthepopularvote;the
FMLN'sshareofthevotediminished to 29.05percent.
The FMLNparticipated aloneforthefirst timein the2004presiden-
tialelection.One of themainFMLNleadersduringthearmedconflict,
Schafik Handal,ranagainstARENA'S candidate, AntonioSaca. Although
ARENAonce againmanagedto win by obtaining 57.71percentof the
voteinthefirst round,theFMLN'sshareincreasedto 35.68percent. Five
years later, in 2009, the FMLN participated alone again, but this time
nominated a moderate candidate, who,likeZamorain 1994,camefrom
outsidetheranksoftheformer guerrilla organization: journalistMauricio
Funes.ARENAnominated a former nationalpolicechief,RodrigoAvila.
The 2009electionwas thefirst inwhichonlytwopartiescompeted
in thepresidential contest, and also thefirst in 15 yearsin whichthe
presidential legislative elections were held inthesameyear.ARENA
lostthepresidential race forthefirst timesince 1989,receiving 48.68
percent of the valid votes in comparison with the FMLN's 51.32percent.
Table1 summarizes theresults ofthoseelections. Itis important to note
thatinspiteofhavinglostthepresidential bidsuntil2009,theFMLNhad
been fairly successful in municipaland legislative elections.In 1994it
had obtained25 percentoftheseatsintheNationalAssembly (21 of84)
and itsperformance at thepolls had continuously improvedoverthe
years,culminating with 42 percent of the seats (35 of 84) in January
2009- The of and
dynamics municipal legislative electionsoverallhave
differed fromthoseofthepresidential elections.
A variety of explanations have been suggestedforthefactors that
may have played a role in the outcome of the elections, but few empir-
icalstudiestapdirectly intovoters'motivations. Qualitative studieshave
associatedARENA'S 1994victory withapathy,structural and procedural
problems (such as inefficient voterregistration and unfairdistribution of
campaignfunds), and the FMLN's lack of organization (Spence and

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Vickers1994; Stahler-Sholk 1994).13 Using a game theoreticmodel,

Wantchekon (1999) suggeststhatthedecidingfactorin the 1994elec-
tionswas uncertainty overthe peace processin the mindsof voters,
whichin theend favoredARENA.Lookingback at thoseelections,it
sequentcampaignsand delineatedthepoliciesthatboththeFMLNand
According to Dada (1994),in 1994bothpartieshad similar electoral
platforms, with five commonthemes:consolidationof the peace
accords,establishment of a social marketeconomy,modernization of
thestatevia decentralization, privatization ofstateenterprises,andpolit-
ical democratization. Dada notes,however, thatthecontentofthepro-
posalsto achievethosegoalswas rather WhileARENAsaw the
consolidation ofpeace as thecontinuation ofthepoliciesadvancedby
theoutgoingAlfredo Cristiani Administration, fortheFMLNthistheme
was closelylinkedto theparty's own consolidation as one ofthemain
political actorsin thecountry. Another difference was thegoal ofestab-
lishing a social market economy. For ARENA, this meantstructural
adjustment rigorously meeting requirements byinternational
the set
organizations, whereas for the FMLN,it meantreforms to economic
policy and reinforcement of the popular sector.Forthe FMLN, thesocial
side ofthesocialmarket economy included policiesaimed at theredis-
tribution of marketgrowthbenefitsthroughthe state,whileARENA
emphasizedtheneed fortemporary sacrificesin socialspending, with
the goal of sustainedgrowth.In termsof politicaldemocratization,
ARENAregardedthisas respectfortherulesand theestablished order
(the1983Constitution), whereas the FMLN viewed it as growing partic-
ipationofdiversegroupsin thedecisionmaking process.
Whether or nottheelectorate fullyperceivedthosedifferences in
approach remains unclear, since in their campaigns, both parties advo-
catedtheneedforsocialdevelopment. ARENA'S discoursewas notnec-
essarily perceivedas benefiting theupperclass.
In termsofthecampaign, Dada (1994) acknowledges thatin 1994,
ARENA'S campaign had better quality and more financial resources.It
also had a structure thatextendedall overthecountry and receivedfull
supportfromtheprivatesector,theprintmedia,and somemilitary sec-
tors.In thisfirst postconflict election, italso became clear that ARENA'S
strategy consistedat leastpartly of portraying theFMLNas unqualified
to runthegovernment. It presented itselfas theonlypartycapableof
maintaining orderin thecountry and triedto convincethepublicofthe
threatof destabilization if it did not win. It also exploitedexisting
post-ColdWarfearsof a communist takeoveriftheFMLNwon. Dada
(2004,26) contends that as a leftistparty, theFMLNactedon theprem-
ise thatthemasseswerebehindit,whichwas notnecessarily true.

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The explanations fortheelectoraloutcomein the1999presidential

electionsonce againincludefactors suchas thedisparity in campaign
expenditures between ARENA and the FMLN (ARENA invested much
morethanotherparties)and the FMLN'sinternal conflict betweenits
orthodoxmembersand itsreformers, who disputedGuardado'snomi-
nation:"ARENA crushedtheFMLNinthe1999presidential elections....
thoseresults may have been due to another bruising,publicfight within
theFMLN"(Spenceet al. 2001,5).
The 2004electionswerethemostcontentious and divisiveelections
ofthepostwarperiodto thatdate(Holiday2005).After 15yearsingov-
ernment, ARENA had clearly established a neoliberal economic policy,
whichincluded,amongotherthings,the privatization of banks,tele-
phone services,and energyprovisionand the adoptionof the U.S.
dollaras the nationalcurrency (ArtigaGonzález2004). In macroeco-
nomicterms, whilethefree-market reforms helpedEl Salvadorperform
betterthanmostCentralAmerican countries {Economist 2003),poverty
levelsdiminished onlyslightly duringthatperiod(UNDP 2003). Social
inequality,crime,and violencealso increaseddramatically.
To addresstheseproblems,ARENAestablishedsubsidizedsocial
programs, such as Red Solidariaand Fosalud,and launchedseveral
stronghand (mano dura) policiesagainstcommoncrime.Duringthe
2004electoral process,ARENAhaileditspoliciesofpastadministrations
andthepotential benefits ofCAFTA-DR, a freetradeagreement withthe
UnitedStates.It also embarkedon "a massivecampaignthreatening to
cut offfamily remittances ifpeople did notre-electtheofficial party"
(CIS 2004).15The FMLNplatform concentrated on oppositionto CAFTA
and the withdrawal of SalvadorantroopsfromIraq (Wade 2008,43;
Boothet al. 2006,113).A postelectoral surveyconductedby theInsti-
tutoUniversitario de OpiniónPública(IUDOP) in March2004,shortly
afterthe elections,showedthat53-2percentof Salvadoransbelieved
thatthesituation inthecountry was likelyto improve, 17.6percentsaid
itwouldstaythesame,and 2 percentsaid itwouldworsen;27.2 per-
centdid notanswer.ARENAvotersweremorelikelyto believethatthe
situationwould improve, whilethosewho votedforthe FMLNwere
- but did not necessarily
uncertain have a negativeoutlookforthe
future(IUDOP 2004).
From1994through 2004,theideologicaldividebetweenthepoli-
ciesproposedbytheFMLNandARENAwas evident. The latter strongly
supported a neoliberalmodel (Wood 2001,2005), and the FMLN stood
againstpolicies suchas privatizationand dollarization
(Wade 2008). The
2009 electoralprocesshad similartraitsto those of past elections:
ARENAinvested morethantheFMLNinthecampaign,
significantly and
themediaand thebusinesssectorsopenlysupported it.Negativecam-
paigningalso abounded,particularly thethreat promulgated byARENA

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thattheFMLNwouldturnEl SalvadorintoanotherVenezuela.Forits
own part,theFMLNtriedto capitalizeon theshortcomings of thedif-
ferentARENAadministrations, especially theirfailureto effectively
Overall,however,in 2009thelevelofpolarization somewhat dimin-
ished;the FMLN's partyprogram (plan gobierno)pledged main-
de to
property, promote businessandinvest-
mentopportunities, and adhereto all freetradeagreements, including
CAFTA{Economist 2008).Funes,theFMLNcandidate, repeatedly talked
about buildinga constructive relationship with the United States
(Schmidtand Malkin2009) and, to show his commitment to the free
market,announcedthathe would implement policieslike those of
Lulada Silva(Colburn2009,149).

An Empirical Explanation of the

Electoral Results
This studyuses individual-level data to examinethe determinants of
voteforARENAand theFMLNin thepresidential electionsof thelast
15years.Thedataforthe1994,1999,and 2004electionsaredrawnfrom
the AmericasBarometer projectbased at Vanderbilt University.16 The
fieldwork forthesesurveys was conducted by theIUDOP in El Salvador.
The surveys werecarriedouteithera fewweeksor a fewmonthsafter
thepresidential elections.The size ofthesamplesvariedfrom1,600in
1995 2,900 1999and 1,589in 2004.The estimated
to in marginoferror
was plusor minus2.7 percentin 1995,±1.82percentin 1999,and ±2.4
percent in 2004(all atthe95 percentlevel).17The dataforthe2009elec-
tionscomefroma comprehensive pre-electoralsurveyconducted bythe
IUDOP in El Salvador.The fieldwork took place duringthe first two
weeksofFebruary; thesamplesize was 2,521and theestimated margin
oferrorwas ±1.95witha 95 percentconfidence level.
This studyuses different logisticregression modelsin whichthe
reported voteforbothARENAand theFMLNis thedependentvariable
in the 1994-2004elections(coded in each case as a separatedummy
variable).In the2009model,thedependentvariableis thevoteinten-
tionforeach ofthoseparties.The maingoal ofthesemodelsis to test
whether ornotideologywas a predictor ofvote,evenwhencontrolling
forotherrelevant variables.
The choiceofthoseadditional independent
variableseach yearwas madeusingas analytical framework thevoting
The firstsetofindependent variablesis derivedfromthesociolog-
icalor socialgroupmodelofvoting;and themajority ofthesevariables
wereavailableforuse in mostmodels.The levelsof incomeand edu-
cation(intervalvariables)are used as indicators of social class. The

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attachment to particular cleavagesis measuredthrough theparticipation

of citizensin certainsocial groups (churchgroups;school-related
groups,such as parents'associations;community organizations; and
occupation-related organizations).Other sociodemographic variables
are employedas indicators of religious,gender,or generational cleav-
ages. These include the declared religion of the respondents as a
dummyvariable, their religiosity
(frequency of attendance at church
services),theirage, and theirgender.19 The respondents' place of resi-
denceis takenintoaccountthrough twovariables:thesize ofthetown
of residence(whetherrespondents live in San Salvadoror in smaller
citiesin the country)and the geographically based "war-hit depart-
ment."Thisdummy variablewas constructed byputting together thesix
departments of the country that were hit by higher levels of violence
The mainvariablein thesociopsychological model,partyidentifi-
cation,was availableonlyforthe 2009 model;therefore themeasure-
mentof thismodelin previouselectionshas limitations. In contrast, a
largenumberofvariableslinkedto therational choicemodelare avail-
able foranalysisin everymodel;theyrefer to issues,including thestate
of the economy,but also to candidates'images,government evalua-
tions,and voterideology.Withregardto issues,thirdwave LatinAmer-
ican democracieshave been plaguedby corruption scandals,which
have influenced electoraloutcomes.In orderto measurehow exten-
sivelycorruption has been an issuein Salvadoranelections,a variable
measuring theperception ofcorruption in publicofficials was included
in the1999and 2004models.It is usefulto recallthatARENAadminis-
trationsperformed relativelywellcomparedto otherincumbent parties
in LatinAmericain termsofcorruption.21
Commoncrimeand gangviolencehavebecomecritical problems in
many CentralAmerican countries,and postwar El Salvador has been no
exception. El Salvadoris,indeed,one ofthemostviolentcountries inthe
Western Hemisphere (UNDP 2009).22As a consequence, ARENA'S cam-
paigns, and especially those of recentyears, have stressed the need to
combatcrimewithstronghand policies.In thisarticle, twodifferent vari-
ablesareusedto tapcrimeissues.The first, whichwas also availablefor
the1999and2004models,tapsrespondents' perception ofpersonalsecu-
rity.The second, a dummy variableincluded in all models, putstogether
all thementions thatrespondents madeoftopicsrelatedto violenceand
crimewhenaskedaboutthemostsevereproblemin thecountry.
In mostcountries, problemsrelatedto the economytake prece-
dence overanyothers,and thishas generally been thecase in El Sal-
vador.An exceptionto thetrendoccurredin 1999,whena majority of
respondents (53.6 percent) identifiedcrime as the main issue con-
fronting the country. In both 1994 and 2004,violence-related issues

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werealso citedas themainproblemby a largepercentage ofthepop-

ulation(38.2 percentand 30.8 percent, respectively), althoughnotthe
majority. 2009,however, the number of those who identified vio-
lence-related issuesas themainproblemdeclinedto 19-8percent, while
the percentageof thosecitingeconomicissues as the mostpressing
ones soaredto 74.9 percent.
Two economicissueswere particularly relevantin 2004.The first
questionused a seven-point scale and asked respondents how much
theyagreedor disagreedwithfree trade agreements; in the contextof
the 2004 election,thisclearlymade reference to the CAFTA-DR trade
agreement. The otherquestionasked in 2004was whether or not the
respondent's family receivedremittances fromabroad.About25 percent
admittedthattheyhad receivedremittances withinthe past year.
Although theymostlybenefitlower-income citizens,remittances have
becomea majorsourceof incomeforSalvadorans, and theirindirect
positiveeffect on theeconomyis widespread.
The surveysin different yearsalso containvariablesthatgauge
eitherthe retrospective evaluationof policy performance or the
prospective assessment of thecontending parties'potentialto address
specificpolicyissues.Allmodelsincludeda questionthataskedrespon-
dentsto evaluatetheperformance oftheincumbent government. Mean-
while,prospective policyperformance itemswereincludedonlyin the
2009survey.Theyaskedrespondents to assessthepotential capability
ofeach partyto fight crime,corruption, and poverty, and to createjobs.
The othereconomicvariableis also based on the questionthat
askedrespondents whatwas themostimportant problemin thecoun-
try;thus a dummy variable that adds together thementions
all related
to economicissues(like unemployment, inflation, lack of credit,etc.)
was created.Also includedin mostsurveyswere variablesdirectly
relatedto thesociotropic, or pocketbook, evaluationofthestateofthe
economy.23 A measurement tapping the candidates' imagewas available
only forthe 2009 election.In order to measure citizens' ideologicalposi-
tions,all modelsincludeda standardquestionaskingrespondents to
place themselves somewhere on the ten-point ideological scale (with
"1"as left).
The lastset of variablesused in themodelsconsistsof thosethat
are consideredexternalstimulivariables.In the Salvadorancontext,
giventheopen supportof theprintmediaforARENA,themediacan
havea critical effect on voters;therefore, all surveys includedquestions
thataskedhow frequently respondents listened to news on theradio,
watchedit on television, or read newspapers.Usingtheseitems,an
indexofattention to newswas createdand includedas an independent
variablein all models.The finalvariable,also considered as an external
stimulus, directly related to the electoral campaign.Onlythe 2009

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surveyincludeda questionthatasked respondents whichone of the

partiesputforththe most negativecampaigning.
Although thedifferent modelsused in thisstudycovera
widerangeofvariables, certaincontextualaspectscannotbe accounted
forin surveys;forinstance, such as thefinancial
factors advantageof
ARENAas incumbent party in the the
elections, internal
intheFMLNoverthenomination ortheallegedinfluence
offoreignactorsin theelections.

Explaining the Dominance and

Defeat of ARENA
Theresults ofthedifferent logisticregressionmodels(one foreach elec-
tion)are shownin table2. All of themshow relativestrength (Nagel-
kerkeR). The analysisshowsthatoverall,theeffect ofsociologicalvari-
ables throughout theyearshas been uneven.Educationappearsas a
predictor of the vote forARENAin 1999,butbeyondthat,socialclass
(incomeor education)does notemergeas a majorpredictor.
Contrary to thetrendinmostdevelopeddemocracies, wherelower-
class citizenstendto supportleftparties(Ethridgeand Handelman,
2010), in El Salvador,citizenswithlower levels of educationhave
tendedto support ARENAinsteadoftheFMLN.The analysisalso reveals
thatsociodemographic variables,suchas gender, age,and religion,have
not playeda determinant role in the outcomeof the elections.Geo-
graphiclocation,however, was a predictor on severaloccasions.In the
firstelectionsof thepostconflict period(1994),citizenslivingin zones
thathad been hithardbywartime violenceweremorelikelyto support
theFMLNthancitizensin therestofthecountry, who weremorelikely
to supportARENA.
Thisinfluence carriedintothe 1999elections,althoughonlyas it
relatedto the vote forthe FMLN.Thisvariable'sinfluencewaned in
the 2004 and 2009 elections.Anothergeography-related variable,the
size ofthecityofresidence,was relevant duringthe2004presidential
race,when citizenslivingin largercities,includingthe metropolitan
area, were prone to supportthe FMLN.In the sociologicalvoting
model,moreover, theattachment to certainsocial groupshas, forthe
mostpart,notbeen a regularpredictor ofvotein El Salvador,theonly
exceptionsbeingthe 1999and 2004 elections.Thus,in 1999,respon-
dentswho reportedhigherlevelsof participation in theircommunity
organizations were moreproneto vote forthe FMLN,whilein 2004,
thosewitha higherparticipation in school-related groupswere more
likelyto vote for ARENA. In summary, sociologicalvariableshave had
weak predictivepower in the Salvadoran elections in the past 15
years;religiousor gendercleavageshave notbeen relevantpredictors

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of vote,and othervariableshave had an inconsistent effecton the

The flagvariableforthesociopsychological modelis partyidentifi-
cation.Thisvariablewas availableonlyfor2009,and thedirection of
thevoteintention is evident, as thosewho identified themselves witha
certainpartyin 2009weremorelikelyto voteforit.As discussedear-
lier,while thismay sound like a foregoneconclusion,it has been
demonstrated thatindevelopeddemocracies thereis a tendency toward
partydealignment, so thatthe weight of thisvariable as a predictorof
votehas been weakeningovertheyears.
Acrosstheyears,thegreater amountofinfluence on thedecisionto
voteforeitherARENAortheFMLNcamefromdifferent variableslinked
to therationalchoicevotingmodel.Two variablesin particular, ideol-
ogy and the evaluation of policyperformance of the incumbent gov-
ernment, werethemostconsistent predictors of vote.Ideologywas a
predictor in everyelection,and the direction of the associationwas
clear:thosewho voted for ARENA leaned to the right, and thosewho
votedfortheFMLNidentified with the The
left. relationship between
ideologyand votingwillbe analyzedlater.
Citizens'evaluationof the policyperformance of the incumbent
government was also associatedwithhow Salvadorancitizensvotedin
thepast15 years.Voterswho choseARENAhelda positiveassessment
of thatparty'sperformance in government, whereasFMLNsupporters
had a negativeopinionaboutthepoliciesimplemented by thatparty.
Sincethisarticleworkswiththreepostelectoral surveysand one pré-
électoralsurvey, thequestionsthatinvolvepolicyperformance use dif-
ferentwordingthroughout. The questionin 2009,forexample,asksfor
a prospective evaluation, whilethe1994,1999,and 2004questionsask
fora retrospective evaluation.In everycase, nevertheless, themodels
show thattheassessment of policyperformance was actuallya major
factorin the votingchoice.The pre-electoral 2009 surveywas more
detailedthanpreviousones and askedforspecificareasofprospective
policyperformance, including fightingcrime,corruption, poverty, and
creatingjobs. ARENA voters-to-be not only associated that party with a
highercapability to fight againstcrime,butalso seemedto believethat
ARENAwas morecapableof fighting poverty and creating jobs. FMLN
potentialvoters,in contrast, were less likelyto believethatARENA
could fighteithercrimeor povertyefficiently, and the capabilityto
createjobs did notappearto be a defining factorforthem.
Issues are also partof the rationalchoicevotingmodel.In 2004,
one economicissue was identified as highlyrelevantby votersfrom
bothparties:the support,or lack of same,forthe CAFTA-DA agree-
ment.As expected,those who supportedthe FMLNmore readily
rejectedthe agreement, whereasthose who voted forARENAsup-

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portedit. Otherissues,such as corruption or remittances, were not

The sociotropic or egotropicvariablesdo notprovidemuchof an
explanation for the votingbehaviorofSalvadorans in thepast15 years.
On onlytwooccasionsdid thesevariablesturnoutto be predictors of
vote. In 1999,ARENAvoterswere less likelythan FMLNvotersto
believethattheeconomywas thecountry's mainproblem, and in 2004
therewas some evidenceof sociotropic economicimpact,as ARENA
votersweremorelikelyto perceivethattheeconomicsituation of the
country was good.Withrespectto theeffects ofthecandidates' images,
the model for2009 shows thata positiveimage of MauricioFunes
turnedout to be a predictor of vote intention:voterswitha positive
a negativeimageofhimweremorelikelyto voteforARENA.24
One oftheexternal stimuli theindexofmediaattention,
did notturnoutto be a predictor ofvotein El Salvador, exceptforthe
2009electionsand onlyforARENAvoters, whowere,overall,lesslikely
to payattention to thenewstransmitted by thedifferent mediaoutlets.
Thisresultseemsto contradict the generalperception thatthe media
had had a decisiveinfluence in theelectionssince1994.Onlythe2009
surveyincludeda questionrelatedto theelectoralcampaignitself. The
perception ofnegativecampaigning was also relevant:ARENA'S poten-
tialvotersdid notbelievethatthepartyhad engagedin muchnegative
campaigning, whereasthecontrary occurredamongFMLNvoters-to-be.
The statisticalmodelspresentan overallperspective of thefactors
thatweremostsignificantly associatedwiththechoiceofeitherpartyin
thepastfourpresidential elections.Thisdoes notmeanthatall of the
remaining variables should be disregarded. Further analysisshowsthat
atthebivariate level, thereare some statistically
In theperiodunderanalysis, ARENAvoterstendedto be slightly older
and less educated,and overall,womenweremorelikelythanmento
voteforthatparty.ARENAvotersalso tendedto pay less attention to
thenewsthanFMLNsupporters. On theFMLNside,voterswerelikely
to be oftenmaleandyounger, withslightly highereducationlevels,and
to livein largercities.25
All thingsconsidered, however,thesefactorsultimately playeda
lesserrolein voters'decisionsthantheirpartyidentification, theirideo-
logicalorientations, and theirperceptions of the performance of the
incumbent government. To a certainextent,issue voting also playeda
part, and voters often believed that their of
party preference was the
one bestsuitedto addresspolicy-related issues,such as creating jobs or
fighting crime and poverty.

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Disentangling the Dimensions of

Ideology in El Salvador
The different modelsused to determine thepredictors ofthepresiden-
tialvotehaveshownthatideologyhas been a majorexplanatory factor.
It is,consequently, important to have an idea ofthe dimensions of ide-
ology in El Salvador.For this purpose, this study used the standard
questionon ideology,whichwas askedin all countries of LatinAmer-
ica in the2008roundof theAmericasBarometer. It askedrespondents
to place themselves on a ten-point ideologicalscale fromleftto right.
The percentage of non-response to the ideologicalself-placement
question help determine whether or notSalvadorans have a well-
definedideology.Nine percentof the respondents failedto give an
answerto thatquestion(table3, column4). OnlyUruguay had a lower
percentage, whichdemonstrates thatSalvadorans amongthemost
ideologically definedcitizensin theregion.Another important perspec-
tivecan be obtainedbycomparing themeanideologicalself-placement
ofcitizensin thedifferent countries (table3, column1). El Salvadorhas
a meanscoreof5.30,whichis slightly moreto theleftthantheregional
mean of 5.73 and the world mean of 5.56. Along with Bolivia,
Venezuela,and Uruguay, it is one of theLatinAmerican countries far-
thestto theleftoftheideologicalspectrum.
In addition,thereis moredispersion of respondents in El Salvador
thanin any otherLatinAmericancountry exceptNicaragua(table 3,
column3). Salvadorans are notgatheredaroundthemean,as in most
countries,but scatteredthroughout the ideologicalscale. In other
words,thestandarddeviationforEl Salvadorand Nicaraguaconfirms
thehighlevelsofpolarization in thosetwocountries.
The distributionof citizenson thespectrum can be clearlyseen in
thelasttwocolumnsoftable3. El Salvadorhas a highdegreeofpolar-
izationat the extremesof the continuum: 17 percentof Salvadorans
position themselves on the extreme right (9 or 10 in the scale), and
another19.9percenton theextreme left(1 or 2 in thescale). In com-
parisonwithothercountries, onlyNicaraguais in close proximity; and
whileseveralcountries also have a highnumberof citizenslocatedat
theextremeright, none has sucha largeproportion of citizenson the
extreme left.
Beyondthe comparisonwithothercountries, it is important to
determine ifchangesin theideologicaltrendsoftheSalvadoranpopu-
lationhave takenplace withinthepastfewyears.Table 4 showsthat
the mean ideologicalself-placement has actuallyvariedfromyearto
year.Although in 1991thearmedconflict was stillgoingon and people
mayhave feltthreatened to identify openlywiththeleft,the average
ideologythatyearwas 5.82; and whileit movedslightly to theleftto

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Table3. IdeologicalSelf-Placement
in theAmericas,
12 3 4 5 6
Non- ExtremeExtreme
Mean Standard response Left Right
Country Ideology Number Deviation % % %

Uruguay 5.09 1,376 2.57 8 15 11.1

Bolivia 5.17 1,219 2.14 19 9.1 6.3
Venezuela 5.25 1,134 2.46 24 11.8 8
El Salvador 530 1,373 2.96 9 19-9 17
Ecuador 5.37 990 2.47 34 10.2 7.1
Haiti 5.40 1,189 2.24 21 8.8 5.9
Argentina 5.52 1,293 1.86 14 4.1 4.8
Paraguay 5.52 1,111 2.30 26 5.8 8.1
Chile 5.54 1,202 2.15 20 6.9 8
Peru 5.60 1,346 2.15 10 7.7 8.7
Nicaragua 5.74 1,052 3.19 30 15 19.9
UnitedStates 5.75 1,488 2.30 1 8.5 133
Guatemala 5.79 1,120 2.42 25 8 11.3
Brazil 5.84 1,145 2.18 24 5 8.8
Panama 5.85 1,266 1.86 16 5 5.9
Mexico 5.91 1,281 2.37 15 7.3 11.8
Jamaica 5.96 1,250 2.12 17 4.4 10.9
Honduras 6.09 1,239 2.38 17 4.5 16.5
Colombia 6.21 1,249 2.47 17 6.3 18.3
Costa Rica 6.45 1,127 2.66 25 6.6 20.5
DominicanRepublic 7.00 1,170 2.86 22 8 29.4
Region 5.73 25,620 2.44 22 14.7 10.4
Worldaverage (WVS) 5.56

Notes:Numbersrepresentaverageson a 1-10 scale. WVS = WorldValuesSurvey.

Source:Preparedby authorwithdata fromtheAmericasBarometer, 2008.

5.72in 1995,thedifferencebetweenyearsis notstatisticallysignificant.

The percentage of thoseplacingthemselves on theextremeleft,how-
ever,increasedfrom2.4 to 10.7by 1995.In 1999and 2004,bycompar-
ison,therewas a significant
shiftto theright,
withaveragesof6.07 and
6.89,respectively; can helpto explainthelandslidevicto-
riesofARENAin thoseyears.
The meanideologyshifted in theotherdirectionin recentyears.By
March2008,theaverageideologyhad reached5.30,and byearly2009,
themeanhadmovedevenfarther to4.96.Thismayhaveinfluenced
thevotefortheFMLNin the2009elections.
To establishwhetherthe levelsof ideologicalpolarization in the
populationhavechanged,we can observethedispersion oftherespon-
dentsin different
years.The largerstandard deviationeveryyearcan be

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Table4. Cross-Time
in El Salvador
of Ideological Self-Placement
Extreme Center- Center- Extreme
Mean Standard Left Left Center Right Right
Year Ideology Deviation (1-2) (3-4) (5-6) (7-8) (9-10)
1991a 5.82 1.63 2.4 7.8 60.9 19.4 7.0
1995 5.72 2.02 10.7 6.9 51.7 10.9 9.8
1999 6.07 2.73 9.6 4.5 36.3 7.9 16.6
2004 6.89 3.02 10.5 5.2 21.9 13.0 35.5
2008 5.30 2.96 19-9 12.9 29.7 12.1 17.0
2009 4.96 3.24 25.7 12.5 23.0 14.8 17.1

aThe 1991surveywas conductedonlyin themetropolitan area.

Notes:Totalsdo notadd up to 100 percentbecause thepercentageincludesmissing
cases. Figuresrepresent
respondentswho werewillingor able to place themselves.
Source:preparedby authorwithdata fromtheAmericasBarometer 1994,1999,2004,
2008;IUDOP 2009.

seen as a signof an increasein polarization, and thisis particularly

noticeablein 2004 and 2009.The percentage of citizenswho consider
themselves to be at thetwo extremes has increasedovertheyears.In
2004a largepercentage (35.5 percent)oftherespondents placedthem-
selveson the extremeright.26 In contrast, in 2009,about 25 percent
placed themselves on the extremeleft.FollowingZamora(2007,97),
whenthecentercategories are dividedintothreesubcategories (center-
left,center, center-right), we observethatthe numberof citizens
who placethemselves at thecenterofthespectrum (5 or 6 in thescale)
hasbeenindecline,from in
60.9percent 1991to 23 percent in2009.The
center-left andcenter-right,however, havemaintained stablepercentages
(about12 percent oftheelectorate in each).Together, thesethreecenter
categories constitutethemajority oftheSalvadoran electorate.
It is also important to gaugethemeaningof ideologicalself-place-
mentin El Salvador.Whilerespondents maypositionthemselves on the
ideologicalscale, theymaynot have a clearidea of the meaningof
beingon eitherside ofthecontinuum (Seligson2008).Usingdatafrom
the2008AmericasBarometer, thisanalysisfoundthatideologicalposi-
tioning is highly correlatedwithvariablesthatshowsupportfortherole
ofthestateintheeconomy.27 Respondents on theleftsupporta stronger
role forthe state,in comparison withmoderatesand citizenson the
rightof thepoliticalspectrum. On a scale of 0-100,themeansupport
fortheroleofthestateamongSalvadorans on theleftis 80.11,whereas
itis 74.52forthoseon theright. The difference betweenbothgroupsis
statistically The
significant. mean formoderate voters is 74.64,whichis
statistically differentfrom voters on the left butvery close to voterson

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Table 5. AverageIdeology of FMLNand ARENAVoters,1994-2009

1994 1999 2004 2009

ARENA 6.61 7.54 8.50 8.30
FMLN 2.89 3.54 3.42 2.81
Ideological distance 0.41 0.44 0.56 0.61
Nationalmean 5.72 6.07 6.89 4.96

Source:Preparedby the authorwithdata fromtheAmericasBarometer

2004;IUDOP 2009.

the resultsof the elections,

the right.This mayalso have influenced
sinceSalvadoranmoderates(the majorityof the electorate)were less
likelyto supportextremepolicypositions.

Ideology and Elections in El Salvador

As a surveyof expertsconductedby the University of Konstanzand
TrinityCollege Dublin found in 2007, the Salvadoran politicalparty
systemhas a highdegreeof polarization. In the survey,Salvadoran
expertspositioned theFMLNandARENAon clearoppositesofa left-to-
rightscale of 1 to 20 points.ARENA'S overallaveragewas 18.5points,
whereasthe FMLN'saveragewas 2.0 points.The surveyasked the
expertsto givetheiropinionsabouttheparties'positionson a seriesof
dimensions (Wiesehomeier and Benoit2007).
Table 5 showsthatthereis a relationship betweencitizens'ideo-
logicalposition and their vote forone of the parties.The meanideol-
ogy of ARENA voters shifted
to the rightbetween 1994and 2004(from
6.61in the1994electionto 8.50 in the2004election),and thenin 2009
shiftedslightlyto theleftagainwithan averageof8.30.In contrast, the
meanideologyofFMLNvoterstiltedslightly to therightbetween1994
and 2004(from2.89 to 3.42),butthenshifted back to theleftin 2009
(2.81).The ideologicaldistancebetweenthesupporters ofthetwopar-
tieshas been significantand has increasedovertheyears,from0.41 in
1994to 0.56 in 2004and to 0.61 in 2009.28
The ideologicaloriginsofthevoteforARENAand theFMLNcan be
observedin table6. In all years,thebulkof thevoteforbothparties
came fromideologically akincitizens.Withtheexceptionof the 1994
elections,ARENAgeneratedthe greaterpart of the vote fromthe
extremerightand the center-right, and in 2004 therewas a notable
increaseinthepercentage ofvotescomingfromtheextreme right (62.8
percent).On theFMLNside,thedistribution has been similaroverthe
years,withthemajority ofvoterscomingfromtheextreme leftand the
MuchlikeARENAin 2004,theFMLNincreasedtheshareof

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Table6. IdeologicalCompositionofPartyVotein El Salvador,

1994 1999 2004 2009
Left(1-2) 1.4 51.2 3.6 49-3 1.8 44.4 6.8 62.4
(3-4) 2.7 20.1 2.4 12.4 1.6 17.2 7.5 21.0
Center(5-6) 53.4 24.9 35.9 27.4 15.6 30 19.4 14.5
Center-Right(7-8) 20.5 2.4 13.2 4.0 18.2 4.8 28.1 1.5
Right(9-10) 21.9 1.4 44.9 6.9 62.8 3.6 38.1 0.5
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Source:Preparedby the authorwithdata fromtheAmericasBarometer

2004;IUDOP 2009.

voterscomingfromits respectiveextremeof the spectrumin 2009,

at leastsome supportfromcitizenswho identified themselves at the
opposite side of the In for
ideologicalspectrum. 1999, instance, about6
percent ofthe vote for ARENA came from citizenslocatedat the and
about 11 percentof the vote forthe FMLNcame fromcitizenswho
locatedthemselves on thecenter-right or extreme right.29
Itis also important to takeintoaccounttheroleofthecenterin the
composition ofthevote.Centrist votersarethosewho placethemselves
between5 and 6 in theideologicalcontinuum. In 1994,centristvoters
madeup 53-45percentof ARENA'S totalvote,a sharethatdiminished
to 35.9percentin 1999and further declinedto 15.6percentin 2004and
19.4 percent 2009- This resultderived fromthe polarization of the
voteforARENA,which, over the years, became more clearlydefined.
For the FMLN,the vote comingfromthe centerhas been relatively
stablethroughout theyears.Aroundone-third ofthevotesforthatparty
have come fromthecenter,exceptfor2009,whentheportiondimin-
ishedto 14.5percent.
The dataintable7 depictthedistribution ofthevotechoiceamong
thedifferent ideologicalcategories over the years.In everypresidential
election, party that received the majority ofthecentervotewas also
the one thatended up winningthe race (ARENAin 1994,1999,and
2004,andtheFMLNin 2009).Another aspectworthnotingis thesizable
percentage of the vote from the three centercategories(center-left,
center, center-right) that went to thirdpartiesinthe1994,1999,and
2004 elections. It is to
important try to determine whichpartytheytook
votersfrom;and on further analysis we can see thatan important per-
centage of the citizens on the center-leftsupportedthe CDU and the
PDC, whichprobablytookvotesawayfromtheFMLN.In comparison,

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thepercentage ofcenter-leaning voterswhochosethePNCwas smaller,

whichwas to ARENA'S advantage.
Ifwe recalltheactualresultsoftheelections(table1), we see that
between1994and 2004,thePNCgarnered about5 percentofthetotal
voteintheelections, whereasthePDC and theCDU receivedalmost15
percent.BecausetheCDU did notparticipate in the2009raceand the
PNC and PDC withdrew, thescenariowas radically differentfromthat
of previousyears.In 2009,citizenshad onlytwo options,ARENAand
theFMLN,and thechoicedidnotseemto comeeasyforcentrist voters.
The 2009IUDOP pre-electoral surveyshows that18.7percent ofcenter-
leftvoters,48.7percentofcentervoters, and 36.7percentofcenter-right
votersremained undecidedas lateas threeweeksbeforetheelections,
compared 21.7percentofthoseon theextreme
to rightand 7.9 percent
ofthoseon theextreme left.
Although minoritypartiescontinueto playa rolein legislative elec-
tions,scholarshavewonderedwhytheminority partieshave notbeen
able to garnermoresupportfrommoderate citizensin presidentialelec-
tions.Somehavecontended thatthosepartieshavenotbeenable to put
together structures
and levels of organization thatcan competewith
thoseofARENAand theFMLN(Cordovaet al. 2007).Othershavenoted
thatinthepolarizedpoliticalenvironment prevalentin El Salvador,their
messageis likelyto have a lowerimpacton theelectorate, especially
becauseofthegrowing tendency towardan institutionalized bipartisan
butitis interesting
article, to notethatovertheyears,moderate citizens
havesplittheirvotebetweenthesmallerpartiesand thetwodominant
partiesand thatideologicalconsistency has prevailedoverall:thoseon
thecenter-right have tendedto vote forARENAor the PCN,whereas
thoseon thecenter-left haveleanedtowardtheFMLN,theCDU, or the
PDC. Thereare swingvotersin all threecategories, particularly at the

For years,the presidential electionsin El Salvadorproducedimpas-
sioneddebatesbothin and outsidethatcountry. Thisarticlehas taken
an empirical approachto tryto explainsome of thefactors thatmay
havemotivated citizens'choicesat thepollsin thepast15 years.While
itis truethatan empirical analysiscannotfullyaccountforall thevari-
ables and conditionsthatmayhave influenced an election,themodels
explainan important partofthevariance.
The resultsofthestatisticalanalysishelpus to understand thepat-
ternsofelectoralbehaviorthathavebeen developingin El Salvadorin
recentyears.Ideologyand theevaluation ofpolicyperformance, along

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withpartyidentification,candidateimages,andthefocuson issuessuch
as theeconomyand crime,largely explaintheoutcomeoftheelections.
Mostofthepredictors arelinkedto therational choicevotingmodel.In
contrast,variableslinked to the sociological model have been relevant
Ideologyhas been a majordeterminant of thevotein El Salvador
ever sincethe first
postconflict elections in 1994.Citizenswho consider
themselves on the leftof the ideologicalspectrumhave consistently
votedfortheFMLN,whilecitizenswho place themselves on theright
haveconsistently votedforARENA.Votersat thecenter, however, who
composethemajority oftheelectorate, weretheoneswho,up to 2009,
tippedthepresidential racesin favorof ARENA.In each election,the
swingofcentrist voterstowardeithersideofthespectrum has beenkey
to thefinaloutcome.30
Although ARENA'S victoriesin thepresidential racesfrom1994to
2004can be partlyexplainedbythevoteobtainedfromthelargeper-
centageofcitizenswho consideredthemselves on therightto center-
rightoftheideologicalspectrum (plus theadded votefromthemajor-
ityof thoseat the center),ideologyalone is not enoughto account
forthatparty'ssuccess. The positiveor negativeevaluationof the
policiesundertaken by ARENA'Sdifferent administrations (retrospec-
tiveevaluation)and the expectationsabout thosepolicies(prospec-
tiveevaluation)also servedas predictors of vote in all models.The
modelsshow thatformanyyears,in spiteof a degreeof discontent,
SalvadoransfeltthatARENAwas bettersuitedthantheFMLNto carry
out certainpolicies,especiallywithregardto fighting crimeand pro-
moting economic and
growth jobs. ARENA'S electoralsuccess there-
forecan be attributed notonlyto theideologicalvotebutalso to the
party'sabilityto convincecitizens - even thosewho did not identify
withtheextremerightand thosewithlowerincomes - thatitwas pre-
pared govern.Certainly, other features of ARENA'S campaigns,
such as itssuperiorfinancialresources,itsdepictionof the FMLNas
unqualified,and itswarningsofa communist takeover,mayalso have
a but
played role, only to theextent that citizenswere convinced that
Throughout theyearsofARENA'S dominance, theFMLNmaintained
a strongand important base of supportamongcitizenswho clearly
identifiedwiththe leftand, to a certainextent,amongthoseat the
The party,however,seemed unsuccessful
center-left. at generating
enough electoralsupportamong voters at the center,mostlybecauseits
stanceon issueslikeCAFTAand dollarization did notseemto resonate
withmoderate voters.The choiceofformer FMLNcommandants, such
as Guardadoand Handal,as candidatesin two previouselectionsdid
notseemto helpthecause,either.

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The turnaround in the2009electionscan be empirically explained

by the changes in certain variablesthatin thepasthad led to ARENA'S
dominance. One ofthosechangeswas theshift totheleftbya largepart
oftheSalvadoran electorate,which,byearly2008,had alreadybecome
evident.That,coupledwithless radicalproposalsbytheFMLNand the
selectionofa moderatecandidate, led to an increasein supportforthe
FMLN, and notonly from Salvadorans on theleftof thepoliticalspec-
trumbutalso someat thecenter.The close resultoftheelection,how-
ever,showsthattheFMLNwas notable to garnera substantial portion
ofthemoderate vote.
The absenceof highlycontentious issuessuch as CAFTA,and in
consequencea lowerlevelof polarization, could also have exertedan
influence on theresult.Furthermore, the dominanceof theeconomic
crisis,whichclearlyoverrodecrimeas themostimportant issueforSal-
vadorans,was probablya disadvantage forARENA,as itspresidential
candidateand manodura discoursecould nothave theimpactit had
had in previouselections.
The absenceof theminority partiesfromthe2009race mayhave
also affectedtheoutcomeoftheelection.Evenifweak in comparison
withARENAandtheFMLN,thesepartiescouldstillrallya largenumber
ofvotes,whichin theend couldbe crucialforeitherofthemajorpar-
The 2009statistical modelalso showsthatnegativecampaigning
seemsto havebackfired forARENA,at leastamonga certaingroupof
citizenswithmoderateideology.In comparisonwithpreviouselec-
tions,the impactof ARENA'Snegativecampaigningwas probably
diminished byinternational factors,suchas theglobaleconomicdown-
turn,whichhad a largeimpacton thelocal economy,giventhelatter's
dependenceon thedollar.In addition, theelectionofa moderate pres-
identintheUnitedStatesmayhaveled Salvadorans to thinkthatunlike
the Bush administration, the new government of BarackObama was
notlikelyto give open and indisputable supportto the ideologically
The levelof proximity of the presidentialand legislativeelections
mayhaveplayedyetanotherrolein 2009.Theywereonlytwomonths
apart,anditwas thefirst timein 15yearsthatthetwocontests wereheld
in the same year.The statistical analysis shows a high correlation
betweenthevotein thelegislative electionand thatin thepresidential
election(Cramer's V .790).WhileboththeFMLNand ARENAwereable
to retainthevotesgarnered in theJanuary 2009legislative
successalonedoes notexplainthefinaloutcome.Bothpartiesalso man-
aged to substantially increasethe numberof votesin the presidential
election.Ananalysisoftheelectoral resultspublishedbytheTSE shows
thattheFMLNobtained410,652morevotesin thepresidential election
thanin the legislative election,and ARENAlikewisereceived430,422

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more.A partofthosevotescamefromcitizens whohadvotedforminor-

ityparties January, but another part came fromcitizenswho had
simply notvoted at all inthe legislativeelection (422,999voters).Accord-
ingto thesurvey data available for2009, those votes wereevenlysplit.32
The resultsof thisresearchshowthatthevotingmodelsthathave
been developedforadvancedindustrial democracies can also be useful
foranalyzing thirdwave democracies. As surveydatain LatinAmerica
becomemoreaccessibleand reliable,itis feasibleto continue theappli-
cationof these models and to derivemore comprehensive analysesof
behaviorin theregion.Furthermore,
electoral itwould be interestingto
explorethe role of ideologyas a predictor of votingbehavior in the
region,particularly in lightof the electionof severalleft-leaning gov-
ernments. Morespecifically, itwouldbe important to continuetracking
thedevelopment ofelectoral trendsin El Salvador,particularlynowthat
an alternationof powerhas takenplace. New questions,suchas what
thelevelofpolarization in theSalvadoran population willbe likeat the
end of the FMLN'stermand whetheror not voterswill supportthe
emergence of a viablethirdparty, are likelyto arisein thenearfuture,
and surveyresearchcan be a valuabletoolto helpanswerthem.

The authorwould like to thankJeannette Aguilar,RubiArana,Cynthia
Arnson, JoséMiguelCruz,Mitchell Seligson,MichaelLewis-Beck, NinaWiese-
homeier, DominiqueZephyr fortheir
valuable in
help obtaining dataand
information as wellas AbbyCordovaforhersuggestions
forthisarticle, on an
earlierversionofthemanuscript. RodCuestasprovidedimportant helpin edit-
ingthemanuscript. A specialnoteofappreciation goes to thethreeanonymous
reviewers ofLAPSfortheirmanyvaluableideasand suggestions on thecontent
1. Huntington arguesthatelectionsmaybe an insufficient signof democ-
racy.He proposesthatin orderto be consolidateddemocracies, countries
shouldhaveto pass the"two-turnover test":thewinnersin a founding election
are defeatedin a subsequentelectionand the new winnersare also later
2. A poll by Borgeand AsociadosconductedbetweenFebruary 16 and 22
produceda technical draw(ARENA40.9percentvs. FMLN40.0percent).Other
polls(LPGDatos,CIOPS-UTEC) also produceda technicaldraw.Earlierpollsin
2009gavetheFMLNa widerlead. See El Diariode Hoy,variousdates.
3. Thepercentage ofundecidedvoterswas similar in all polls:CID-Gallup,
forinstance,reported that18.1percentofSalvadorans wereundecidedbymid-
4. The officialresultsof the2009 electionscan be foundat theTribunal
SupremoElectoral website.
5. Although the2009electionsimplieda majorchangeinthepolitical land-
scape, ARENA continued to hold an importantnumber of the seats in the

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NationalAssembly (32 of itsown and and probably11 fromtheideologically

akinPNCfora totalof43).
6. Becauseof theuse of different dataseisand thelargenumberofvari-
ablesincludedin each model,and following Molinaand Pérez2004,I decided
to use logisticregression modelsin whichthe dependentvariableis either
ARENAor theFMLN.Multinomial logitanalysiscould have been used, butI
chose to use logisticregression becausetheprimary goal of themodelsis to
explain the decision made by the voters of those two parties, notthepredictors
forcitizenswho votedforthirdpartiesor who did notattendthepolls.
7. Up to 2008,Paraguaywas theonlythirdwave country in LatinAmer-
ica wheretheincumbent partywas electedthreetimesin a row.Venezuelais a
different case, sinceHugo Chavezhas been electedthrough different political
parties. Chile, a coalition of partieshas been in power since 1989,butnotan
individual party.
8. Theseissuesarealso considered "newpolitics" issues,incontrast tothe
"oldpolitics" issues,suchas security, stability,and economicwell-being.
9. Ideologyin Europeancountriesis measuredon a left-right scale,
whereasin the UnitedStatesit is oftenmeasuredon the liberal-conservative
scale(Robinsonet al. 1999).
10. In additionto economicissues(i.e., taxes)and theroleof thestate,
thereis a markedideologicalcontrast in moraland socialissues(i.e.,stemcell
research, same-sex or
marriage, abortion), foreign policy,environmental pro-
tection,and racialand genderequality.
11. Another approachto thestudyoftheimpactofideologyin electionsis
theuse of spatialvoting, whichcontendsthatcitizenswillvoteforthecandi-
datewhosepolicypositionis closestto theirownviews(Jesse2009).
12. ARENAwas formed in 1982byagroexporters, urbancapitalists, retired
military members, and members ofthemiddleclasswithrightist ideas(Stanley
1996).TheFMLNwas structured from fivepolitical-military revolutionary groups
(Dada 1994;Allison2006).
13. The turnout in the1994presidential electionswas 46.2 percent, lower
thanin thepreviouspresidential electionsin 1989(54.7 percent).No reliable
data are availableforthepresidential electionsof 1984(Cordovaet al. 2007).
Data obtainedfromInternational IDEA.
14. According to the UNDP (2003), 43 percentof the populationlived
underthepoverty lineand 19 percentin extreme poverty.
15. Critics ofU.S. foreign policyin LatinAmericahavecontendedthatthe
UnitedStates,through its embassyin San Salvador,playedan activerole in
ARENA'S victory in 2004. See CISPES2004.
16. The biannualAmericasBarometer is partof theLatinAmerican Public
OpinionProject(LAPOP).The majorsupporters are theUnitedStatesAgency
forInternational Development, theUnitedNationsDevelopment Program, the
Inter-American Development Bank, and Vanderbilt See
University. www.lapop
17. The surveysare stratified and designedto assessnationalprobability.
The 1999sampleis largerbecauseitincludedan oversample in certain regions
wheretheFMLNhad a stronger presence. The databases used fortheanalysis

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18. Although thequestionnaires didnotincludeall desirablequestions, an

efforthas beenmadeto makethemodelsas comprehensive and comparable as
19. Race,an important explanatory variablein thesociologicalmodelof
voting,is not relevant in thecase of El Salvador.
20. Allison(2005)uses a similar approachinan analysisoftherelationship
betweenvoteandgeographic locationinthe1994legislative elections,butuses
a differentdistribution ofdepartments. I constructed an "indexoftheeffects of
war"usingthreequestionsin the 1995surveythataskedrespondents if, a
resultof theconflict, they lost members of their family or had who
becamerefugees or leftthecountry. Thereis a statistically difference
in thelevelsofviolenceenduredbycitizensofUsulután, Cabanas,SanVicente,
Cuscatlán, Morazán,and Chalatenango and theremaining eightdepartments.
21. The Transparency International Index(CPI) is the mostwidelyused
indicator of corruption. In 1999El Salvador'sscoreof 3-9gave thecountry a
ranking of 49, betterthanmostLatinAmerican countries. In 2004El Salvador
was in position51 (4.2 score).The onlycountries thatfaredbetterthatyear
wereChile,Uruguay, and CostaRica.
22. According to a UNDP report(2009),El Salvadorwas one of themost
violentcountriesin CentralAmerica,behindonly Hondurasand ahead of
Guatemala.In 2008therewere 58 homicidesper 100,000inhabitants in Hon-
duras,52 in El Salvador, and 48 in Guatemala.In comparison, therewereonly
11 in CostaRicaand 13 in Nicaragua.
23. Thesequestionsaskrespondents iftheeconomicsituation ofthecoun-
tryand therespondent's personaleconomicsituation areverygood,good,fair,
bad,or verybad.
24. The 1994,1999,and2004databasesdo notcontainquestionsthatallow
forthemeasurement oftheimpactofcandidateimages.Otherpollsshowed,for
instance, thattheFMLN'scandidatein 2004,Handal,did notportray a positive
image:"hisage (74), deteriorating healthand keyrolein thewar,amongother
things,madeitveryhardtopresent himas an iconofchange,whichis theaspi-
rationofoverhalfofthepopulation" (Grigsby 2004).
25. A comparisonof means analysisof the 2009 IUDOP pre-electoral
surveyshowsthattheaverageage of ARENAvoters-to-be in 2009was 39.25
years,in comparison with37.43forFMLNsupporters. The averageeducationof
ARENAsupporters was 7.49yearsversus9.08forFMLNsupporters. Themedian
incomeof ARENAvoters-to-be was US$212.50per month,whereasforFMLN
voters-to-be itwas US$300.Alldifferences are statistically
26. Thislargeincreaseon theextreme rightmaybe due tothehighly polar-
ized electoral campaignin 2004.
27. The questionsask iftheSalvadoran government shouldown themost
important enterprises and industries ofthecountry, ifitis themostresponsible
forensuring thewell-being ofthepeople,ifithas theprimary for
creating jobs, and ifit should implement firmpoliciesto reduceinequality in
incomebetweentherichand thepoor.An indexof supportforthestatewas
28. The ideologicaldistancewas establishedusing Sani and Sartori's
method(see Mainwaring 1999).Theycalculatedthemeanself-placement forall

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relevantpartiesin 11 advanceddemocracies in Europebysubtracting themean

ofthefarthest leftfromthatofthefarthestright partyand dividing itby9. The
highestdistancewas foundin Italyand Finland(.64).
29. The literatureon votingbehaviorwouldhave severalpotential expla-
nationsforthisapparentcontradiction;othervariables,suchas thecandidate
chosenby theparties,thecampaignitself, or particularissues,mayhave had
moreinfluence on votersthantheirprofessedideologicalstance(Woshinsky
2008;Ethridge and Handelman2010).
30. The datado notprovidea clearexplanation ofthereasonsbehindthat
ideologicalswing;butas in othersocieties,variablessuchas thepoliciespro-
motedby each of thepartiesin theparticular contextof each electioncould
havebeen influential.
31. InJanuary 2009thePNCobtained194,751votesand thePDC received
32. The IUDOP 2009pre-electoral surveydatashowthatthepresidential
voteintention of thosewho did notcast a ballotforthelegislative elections
was evenlysplit,with50.2 percentgoingforARENAand 49.8 percentsup-
porting theFMLN.Thosewho votedforone of theminority partieswerealso
split:58 percentof thosewho votedforthe PCN in the legislative election
intended to voteforARENA, while42 percentanticipated votingfortheFMLN.
The oppositeoccurred withPDC voters,with58 percentsupporting theFMLN
and 42 percentsupporting ARENA.Figuresare theauthor'sanalysisbased on
TSE and IUDOP surveys.

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