Book chapter

The Electoral Representation of Evangelicals in Latin America (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

Evangelical Christians have drawn attention for electoral victories throughout Latin America, yet their engagement and success with electoral politics also varies significantly across countries and over time. Scholars' explanations for this cross-national variation generally fall into one of several categories. Sociological or demographic explanations argue that evangelicals should be better represented in countries where they are a larger share of either the population or the socioeconomic elite. A second set of explanations focuses on factors that might politicize evangelical identity and provide the motivation for contesting elections. Among these are the postmillennial and prosperity theology associated with neo-Pentecostalism; the influence of co-religionists from abroad, particularly the United States; historical struggles for religious freedom and legal equality with the Catholic Church; and the rise of values issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. A third set of arguments focuses on the degree to which electoral and party systems are open to new entrants, thus facilitating the electoral ambitions of a mobilized faith community. Finally, arguments focused on voting behavior examine how a candidate's religion affects electoral support, especially among fellow believers, and whether this tendency varies across countries. Explanations for cross-national variation in evangelical political representation also help us understand their electoral surge in the early 21st century, as issues such as same-sex marriage have arrived on the political agenda in a roughly contemporaneous fashion in much of the region, providing a common motivation for electoral contestation.