Perceptions of Human Rights in Mexico

In collaboration with Dona-Gene Barton and Sergio Wals, I have a series of papers on the linkages between perceptions of human rights, support for democracy, violence and trust in institutions in Mexico.  Our work is part of a new wave of scholarship linking research in human rights with work in public opinion and political behavior.  The first of our papers, which suggests that individuals’ beliefs about how well their rights are protected affects their support for democracy and democratically-elected leaders was published in Democratization.  The second, on the sources of perceptions of human rights in Mexico, was recently published in The Journal of Human Rights.  This paper finds that peoples’ perceptions of their rights are based on their experience with violence, their trust in governmental institutions, and their socio-economic standing, among other factors.  In addition to these two academic articles, our work has appeared on openGlobalRights.

Perceived Human Rights and Support for New Democracies – Lessons from Mexico: In this Democratization article, co-authored with Dona-Gene Barton and Sergio Wals, we suggest that there is a clear link between constituents perceptions of respect for human rights and their support for democracy. Political elites in emerging democracies are likely to promise improvements on human rights. From an empirical perspective, however, emerging democracies tend to perform rather poorly in this domain. Given this tension between elite rhetoric and performance, it is important to examine the extent to which citizens in emerging democracies evaluate democracy and new democratic leaders’ performance on the bases of their perceptions of respect for human rights. This topic remains largely unexplored and conventional wisdom suggests that economic satisfaction, not human rights concerns, drives individuals’ support for democracy. We aim to fill this gap in the literature by investigating the extent to which specific and diffuse political support are related to individuals’ perceptions of respect for human rights in the context of an emerging democracy. Taking advantage of two representative survey data sets from Mexico from 2003 and 2010, our empirical findings suggest that citizens are more likely to support their president, their government and democratization when they believe that human rights are respected. By examining the relationship between democracy and human rights protections at the individual level, our research is a pioneering effort to better explain the interaction between the prospects of democratic consolidation and perceptions of human rights.

A Neglected Nexus – Human Rights and Public Perceptions:  Although human rights scholars have focused extensively on the origins of human rights, research is underdeveloped that attends to the origins of public perceptions of human rights. Whether public perceptions regarding human rights conditions are meaningful is an important question. In order for citizen input to effectively ensure democratic accountability, it is essential that public perceptions of human rights be grounded in actual conditions and be linked to other relevant political attitudes. Unlike prior work that ignores within country variation, we take advantage of state-level variation within Mexico to explore the extent to which perceptions of human rights protections are influenced by contextual variation. Specifically, we examine whether the public’s human rights perceptions are influenced by violence levels and human rights organizational activities within the state. Additionally, we assess whether the public’s perceptions of human rights protections are related to trust in domestic institutions and security forces and whether sharing partisan ties with the current administration shades public perceptions. Finally, we assess how education interacts with levels of violence to shape human rights perceptions. In summary, our results show that public perceptions of human rights protections are influenced both by contextual factors and individual differences.