Is the Low Electoral Turnout of Indigenous People a Myth? Evidence from Subnational Elections in Chile, 2012-2017

Abstract views: 404 / PDF downloads: 291




Chile, electoral turnout, Mapuche, representation, subnational elections.


Abundant evidence exists of the low electoral turnout of indigenous people. Among the reasons that explain this result are the weakness of political parties in representing indigenous people, the economic circumstances of ethnic minorities, and their experiences of discrimination. In general, these findings are based on analyses of national elections, and it is unclear if they hold equally at the subnational level. This study of the Mapuche ethnic group in Chile analyzed the electoral turnout in Chile’s 345 municipalities for the national elections of 2013 and 2017 and the subnational elections of 2012 and 2016. The study found the following. First, the electoral turnout in municipalities with the highest concentration of Mapuche is above the average for subnational elections and comparable to the average for national elections. Second, the electoral turnout in these municipalities increases in those subnational elections in which candidates with Mapuche surnames compete. Third, the electoral turnout increases even more in those municipalities in which Mapuche mayoral candidates win in subnational elections.



Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography


Full Professor, School of Political Science and Public Administration,  Faculty of Social and Juridical Sciences, Universidad de Talca. PhD in Political Science. His work has published by Democratization, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Journal of Women, Policits&Policy, Latin American Politics&Society, Latin American Research Review, Política y Gobierno, Revista de Ciencia Política.


Akpan, L. (2018). The Political undertone in the development of nomadic education in Africa: Lessons from Nigeria. American Journal of Qualitative Research, 2(1), 1-21. DOI:

Almond, G., & Verba, S. (1963). The civic culture: Attitudes and democracy in five nations. An analytical study. Little, Brown and Company. DOI:

Ambrecht, B., & Pachon, H. (1974). Ethnic political mobilization in a Mexican American community an exploratory study of East Los Angeles 1965-1972. The Western Political Quarterly, 27(3), 500-519. DOI:

Anderson, C., & Beramendi, P. (2008). Democracy, inequality and representation: A comparative perspective. Oxford University Press.

Arthur, P. (2009). Ethnicity and electoral politics in Ghana’s Fourth Republic. Africa Today, 56(2), 45-73. DOI:

Barreto, M. A., Villarreal, M., & Woods, N. D. (2005). Metropolitan Latino political behavior: Voter turnout and candidate preference in Los Angeles. Journal of Urban Affairs, 27(1), 71–91. DOI:

Basedau, M., & Stroh, A. (2012). How ethnic are African parties really? Evidence from four Francophone countries. International Political Science Review, 33(1), 5-24. DOI:

Beck, S., & Mijeski, K. (2006). The indigenous vote in Ecuador’s 2002 presidential election. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 1(2), 165–84. DOI:

Bird, K., Jackson, S. D., McGregor, R. M., Moore, A. A., & Stephenson, L. B. (2016). Sex (and ethnicity) in the city: Affinity voting in the 2014 Toronto mayoral election. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 49(2), 359–383. S0008423916000536f DOI:

Blais, A. (2006). What affects voter turnout? Annual Review of Political Science, 9(1), 111-125. DOI:

Blais, A., Gidengil, E., Nevitte, N., & Nadeau, R. (2004). Where does turnout decline from? European Journal of Political Research, 43(2), 221-236. j.1475-6765.2004.00152.x DOI:

Bobo, L., & Gilliam, F. D. (1990). Race, sociopolitical participation, and Black empowerment. American Political Science Review, 84(2), 377–93. DOI:

Bueno, N., & Dunning, T. (2017). Race, resources, and representation: Evidence from Brazilian politicians. World Politics, 69(2), 327-365. article/652339 DOI:

Campbell, D. E. (2006). Why we vote: How schools and communities shape our civic life. Princeton University Press.

Carlson, J. (1984). The impact of ethnicity on candidate image. Polity, 16(4), 667-672. DOI:

Chandra, K. (2004). Why ethnic parties succeed: Patronage and ethnic headcounts in India. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Chandra, K. (2005). Ethnic parties and democratic stability. Perspectives on Politics, 3(2), 235-252. DOI:

Contreras, G., & Morales, M. (2017). Ethnic solidarity and the vote: Mapuche candidates and voters in Chile. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 44(11), 25-41. DOI:

Contreras, G., Joignant, A., & Morales, M. (2016). The return of censitary suffrage? The effects of automatic voter registration and voluntary voting in Chile. Democratization, 23(3), 520-544. DOI:

Corvalán, A., & Cox, P. (2013). Class-biased electoral participation: The youth vote in Chile. Latin American Politics and Society, 55(3), 47-68. DOI:

Dabin, S., Daoust, J., & Papillon, M. (2018). Indigenous peoples and affinity voting in Canada. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 52(1), 39-53. DOI:

Dalton, R. J. (2017). The participation gap: Social status and political inequality. Oxford University Press. DOI:

Dancygier, R. (2017). Dilemmas of inclusion. Muslims in European politics. Princeton University Press. DOI:

Dunning, T., & Harrison, L. (2010). Cross-cutting cleavages and ethnic voting: An experimental study of cousinage in Mali. American Political Science Review, 104(1), 21-39. DOI:

Durston, J. (2007). Poder local y movimiento étnico en Villarrica, Chile [Local power and ethnic movement in Villarrica, Chile]. In W. Assies & H. Gundermann (Eds.), Movimientos indígenas y gobiernos locales en Latinoamérica. Copublicación de El Colegio de Michoacán, IWGIA y la U. Católica del Norte.

Featherman, S. (1983). Ethnicity & ethnic candidates: Vote advantages in local elections. Polity, 15(3), 397-415. DOI:

Fisher, S., Heath, A., Sanders, D., & Sobolewska, M. (2015). Candidate ethnicity and vote choice in Britain. British Journal of Political Science, 45(4), 883-905. DOI:

Flesken, A., & Hartl, J. (2020). Ethnicity, inequality, and perceived electoral fairness. Social Science Research, 85, 1-13. 102363 DOI:

Förster, A. (2018). Ethnic heterogeneity and electoral turnout: Evidence from linking neighbourhood data with individual voter data. Electoral Studies, 53, 57-65. DOI:

Fowler, J., & Dawes, C. (2008). Two genes predict voter turnout. The Journal of Politics, 70(3), 579-594. DOI:

Fraga, B. (2016). Candidates or districts? Reevaluating the role of race in voter turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 60(1), 97-122. ajps.12172 DOI:

Fuentes, C. (2013). Representation and ethnic minorities: Right-wing party strategies in Mapuche areas. FONDECYT Project No. 1120206, Santiago, Chile.

Fuentes, C., De Cea, M., & Teitelboim, B. (2019). Presidenciales chilenas 2017. Por quién y cuánto votan los indígenas [Chilean presidential elections 2017. For whom and how much do indigenous people vote]. Estudios Políticos, 55, 14-36. DOI:

Gallego, A. (2010). Understanding unequal turnout: Education and voting in comparative perspective. Electoral Studies, 29(2), 239-248. 2009.11.002 DOI:

Gamboa, R., & Morales, M. (2016). Chile’s 2015 electoral reform. Changing the rules of the game. Latin American Politics & Society, 58(4), 126-144. DOI:

Gatrell, J. D., & Bierly, G. D. (2002). Weather and voter turnout: Kentucky primary and general elections, 1990–2000. Southeastern Geographer, 42(1), 114-134. DOI:

Gelman, A., Park, D. K., Ansolabehere, S., Price, P. N., & Minnite, L. C. (2001). Models, assumptions and model checking in ecological regressions. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A (Statistics in Society), 164(1), 101–118. DOI:

Geys, B. (2006). Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate-level research. Electoral Studies, 25(4), 637-663. DOI:

Gundermann, H. (2007). Municipios y pueblos indígenas en Chile [Municipalities and indigenous peoples in Chile]. In W. Assies & H. Gundermann (Eds.), Movimientos indígenas y gobiernos locales en Latinoamérica (pp. 161-198). Copublicación de El Colegio de Michoacán, IWGIA y la U. Católica del Norte.

Hahn, H., & Almy, T. (1971). Ethnic politics and racial issues: Voting in Los Angeles. The Western Political Quarterly, 24(4), 719-730. 106591297102400408 DOI:

Herrick, R., Davis, J., & Pryor, B. (2020). Are indigenous Americans unique in their voting in U.S. national elections? Politics, Groups, and Identities. DOI:

Hiskey, J., & Goodman, G. (2011). The participation paradox of indigenous autonomy in Mexico. Latin American Politics and Society, 53(2), 61-86. 10.1111/j.1548-2456.2011.00117.x DOI:

Hofferth, S., & Iceland, J. (1998). Social capital in rural and urban communities. Rural Sociology, 63(4), 574-598. DOI:

Htun, M. (2016). Inclusion without representation in Latin America. Gender quotas and ethnic reservations. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Jackman, R. (1987). Political institutions and voter turnout in industrial democracies. American Political Science Review, 81(2), 405-424. stable/1961959 DOI:

James, K. (2019). The Stagnation, fall and rise of Singapore’s Political Opposition, 1996-2013. American Journal of Qualitative Research, 3(1), 37-56. DOI:

Johnson, M. (2020). Electoral discrimination: The relationship between skin color and vote buying in Latin America. World Politics, 72(1), 80-120. DOI:

Kamin, L. J. (1958). Ethnic and party affiliation of candidates as determinants of voting. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 12(4), 205-213. 3231812 DOI:

Kernecker, T., & Wagner, M. (2019). Niche parties in Latin America. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 29(1), 102-124. 17457289.2018.1464014 DOI:

Knoke, D., & Felson, R. B. (1984). Ethnic stratification and political cleavage in the United States, 1952-68. American Journal of Sociology, 80(3), 630-642. DOI:

Korovkin, T. (2006). Indigenous movements in the Central Andes. Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, 1(2), 143-163. 17442220600859221 DOI:

Lehoucq, F., & Wall, D. L. (2004). Explaining voter turnout rates in new democracies: Guatemala. Electoral Studies, 23(3), 485-500. DOI:

Lijphart, A. (1997). Unequal participation: Democracy’s unresolved dilemma. Presidential Address. American Political Science Review, 91(1), 1-14. DOI:

Lublin, D. (2017a). Electoral systems, ethnic diversity and party systems in developing democracies. Electoral Studies, 476, 84-93. 2016.11.012 DOI:

Lublin, D. (2017b). Electoral systems, ethnic heterogeneity and party system fragmentation. British Journal of Political Science, 47(2), 373-389. DOI:

Mackerras, M., & McAllister, I. (1999). Compulsory voting, party stability and electoral advantage in Australia. Electoral Studies, 18(2), 217-233. S0261-3794(98)00047-X DOI:

Madrid, R. (2005). Indigenous voters and party system fragmentation in Latin America. Electoral Studies, 24(4), 689–707. DOI:

Madrid, R. (2011). Ethnic proximity and ethnic voting in Peru. Journal of Latin American Studies, 43(2), 267-297. DOI:

Madrid, R. (2018). The emergence of ethno-populism in Latin America. In C. De la Torre, (Ed.), Routledge handbook of global populism. Routledge. DOI:

Mainwaring, S., & Scully, T. (1995). Building democratic institutions. Party systems in Latin America. Stanford University Press.

Mansbridge, J. (1999). Should Blacks represent Blacks and women represent women? A contingent “yes.” The Journal of Politics, 61(3), 628–657. stable/2647821 DOI:

Manzano, S., & Sánchez, G. R. (2010). Take one for the team? Limits of shared ethnicity and candidate preferences. Political Research Quarterly, 63(3), 568-580. 10.1177/1065912909333130 DOI:

Martinez i Coma, F., & Nai, A. (2017). Ethnic diversity decreases turnout. Comparative evidence from over 650 elections around the world. Electoral Studies, 49, 75-95. DOI:

Martinez i Coma, F., & Werner, A. (2019). Compulsory voting and ethnic diversity increase invalid voting while corruption does not: An analysis of 417 parliamentary elections in 73 countries. Democratization, 26(2), 288-308. 13510347.2018.1524879 DOI:

McConnaughy, C., White, I., Leal, D., & Casellas, J. (2011). A Latino on the ballot: Explaining coethnic voting among Latinos and the response of White Americans. The Journal of Politics, 72(4), 1199-1211. DOI:

Ordeshook, P. C., & Shvetsova, O. V. (1994). Ethnic heterogeneity, district magnitude and the number of parties. American Journal of Political Science, 38(1), 100-123. DOI:

Oskooii, K. (2018). Perceived discrimination and political behavior. British Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 867-892. DOI:

Painemal, N. (2011). Apellidos mapuche vinculados a títulos de merced [Mapuche surnames linked to deeds of mercy]. Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena de Chile (CONADI).

Payne, J. M., Zovatto, D., Carrillo, F., & Allamand, A. (2003). La política importa: Democracia y desarrollo en América Latina [Politics matters: Democracy and development in Latin America]. BID/Instituto Internacional para la Democracia y la Asistencia Electoral.

Persson, M., Sundell, A., & Öhrvall, R. (2014). Does election day weather affect voter turnout? Evidence from Swedish elections. Electoral Studies, 33, 335-342. DOI:

Pettigrew, S. (2020). The downstream consequences of long waits: How lines at the precinct depress future turnout. Electoral Studies, DOI:

Piliavin, J. (1987). Age, race, and sex similarity to candidates and voting preference. The University of Wisconsin. DOI:

Pitkin, H. (1967). The concept of representation. University of California Press.

Powell, G. (1986). American voter turnout in comparative perspective. American Political Science Review, 80(1), 17-43. DOI:

Remmer, K. (2010). Political scale and electoral turnout: Evidence From the less industrialized world. Comparative Political Studies, 43(3), 275-303. DOI:

Rice, R., & Van Cott, D. L. (2006). The emergence and performance of indigenous peoples’ parties in South America. A subnational statistical analysis. Comparative Politics, 39(6), 709-732. DOI:

Rosenthal, M., Zubida, H., & Nachmias, D. (2017). Voting locally abstaining nationally: Descriptive representation, substantive representation and minority voters’ turnout. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41(9), 1632-1650. DOI:

Saglie, J., Mörkenstam, U., & Bergh, J. (2020). Political cleavages in indigenous representation: The case of the Norwegian and Swedish Sámediggis. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 26(2), 105-125. DOI:

Stockemer, D., & Scruggs, L. (2012). Income inequality, development and electoral turnout – New evidence on a burgeoning debate. Electoral Studies, 31(4), 776-773. DOI:

Toro, S., & Jaramillo, N. (2014). Despejando mitos sobre el voto indígena en Chile. Preferencias ideológicas y adhesión étnica en el electorado Mapuche [Dispelling myths about the indigenous vote in Chile. Ideological preferences and ethnic adherence in the Mapuche electorate]. Revista de Ciencia Política, 34(3), 583-604. DOI:

Tricot, V., & Bidegain, G. (2020). En busca de la representación política: El partido mapuche Wallmapuwen en Chile [In search of political representation: The Mapuche Wallmapuwen party in Chile]. Estudios Sociológicos, 38(113), 375-407. DOI:

Valenzuela, M., Toro, S., & Rojo, F. (2017). Equal in poverty, unequal in wealth: Ethnic stratification in Chile, the Mapuche case. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 36(4), 526–541. DOI:

Van Cott, D. L. (2005). From movements to parties in Latin America. The evolution of ethnic politics. Cambridge University Press. DOI:

Van der Zwan, R., Tolsma, J., & Lubbers, M. (2020). Under what conditions do ethnic minority candidates attract the ethnic minority vote? How neighbourhood and candidate characteristics affected ethnic Affinity voting in the Dutch 2017 parliamentary elections. Political Geography, 77, 102098. 10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102098 DOI:

Wolfinger, R. E. (1965). The development and persistence of ethnic voting. The American Political Science Review, 59(4), 896-908. DOI:

Yashar, D. (2005). Contesting citizenship in Latin America: The rise of indigenous movements and the postliberal challenge. Cambridge University Press. DOI:




How to Cite

Morales, M. (2020). Is the Low Electoral Turnout of Indigenous People a Myth? Evidence from Subnational Elections in Chile, 2012-2017. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 8(1), 107–128.



Original Manuscript