The Age of Discontent in the Americas? Not Really

05/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to the UN Commission on Trade and Development over 60 percent of the population south of the Rio Grande is under 35 years old. Latin America's young people will have an impact on political stability and the economy not just in their home countries but also in the U.S., where Latin America accounts for 20 percent of U.S. exports and is the major source of narcotics consumed in the U.S. There's also the issue of immigration, where a backlash against Hispanic immigration has fueled a growing desire to close borders and sometimes spilling over into an ugly racist anger against immigrants already within our borders. With the huge demographic bubble south of U.S. border, the lack of economic opportunity faced by many of the young means that in the years ahead larger numbers of them will be knocking on U.S. doors for entry.

Drawing from surveys conducted by the AmericasBarometer at Vanderbilt University in 2008 that examine youth attitudes and activities compared to their older counterparts Mitch Seligson and I discovered that in fact Latin American youth are not turning against democracy nor are even that pessimistic about their futures. (For a graphic display of the survey data, please go to )

The good news is that, despite lack of economic opportunity and the drug-fueled violence in Mexico and Central America and the Andes, two decades after the democratic transitions swept out military governments in every country throughout the region (except Cuba) Latin America's "democratic generation" remains satisfied with democracy. But it's not all good news. There is a support for violent protest--along the lines of factory seizures and sealing of highways we have seen in countries like Chile and Argentina--and a limited interest in local politics. But as we show below, the former does not mean support for such extra-legal activities enjoy broad support. In fact it remains marginal, though it is larger in the under 35 generation in Chile.

One thing is clearly revealed in the graphs below: whether you're a marketer or a politician, if your target is the younger generation: use the Internet.

(For a graphic display of the survey data, please go to )

Mitchell Seligson is Centennial Professor of Political Science and Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, and is the Director of the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) that carried out these AmericasBarometer surveys. Graphics by Donald Partyka.