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  • Writer's pictureJames Ron

Optimism Among Survey Subjects in Latin America

Updated: Jun 5

Why are people so confident they can make a difference?

I was searching through some old survey data my colleagues and I collected in Mexico City and Bogotá way back in 2016-17. We'd been given money by the Open Society Foundations to poll 960 persons in each city - a representative sample of each urban area's adult population - to learn about their attitudes towards donating money to local citizen advocacy groups.

We had a number of sophisticated survey experiments, including one with real money that we gave to respondents at the end of the interview. (You can read about those here and here).

One of the questions I added at the last minute, however, was about the individual's perceived ability to change the world. We asked, To what extent do you agree with the phrase, ‘People like me can make a difference in the world?’ We gave respondents a 7-point scale to work with, ranging from 1, or I do not agree at all, to 7, or I agree fully. I call this variable, Perceived Agency.

Fully 74% of respondents in each city said that they "strongly agreed" (either 6 or 7 on the 7 point scale), compared to only 6-7% who said that they "weakly agreed" (choosing 1, 2 or 3). The remaining 20% "modestly agreed" with the statement, People like me can make a difference in the world, choosing points 4 or 5.

This is a remarkable finding! Even if we assume that people exaggerate their sense of agency because they think that's what they are supposed to say, these findings are remarkable. .

I am still working on the statistical correlates of Perceived Agency. Preliminary models suggest this feeling is boosted by education, religiosity, and youth, but I will say more when I'm sure the data are clean and the models comprehensive.

Still, at this early stage of the analysis, I find this optimism among the general population in two major Latin American cities refreshing and puzzling.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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