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The Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP), initiated over two decades ago by Mitchell A. Seligson (LAPOP founder and currently Senior Advisor) and directed by Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, is hosted by Vanderbilt University. LAPOP began with the study of democratic values in one country, Costa Rica, at a time when much of the rest of Latin America was caught in the grip of repressive regimes that widely prohibited studies of public opinion (and systematically violated human rights and civil liberties). Today, fortunately, such studies can be carried out openly and freely in virtually all countries in the region.
The AmericasBarometer, one of the many and growing activities of LAPOP, is the only survey of democratic public opinion and behavior that covers the Americas (North, Central, South and the Caribbean). It is an effort by LAPOP to measure democratic values and behaviors in the Americas using national probability samples of voting-age adults. In 2004, the first round of AmericasBarometer surveys was implemented with eleven participating countries; the second took place in 2006 and incorporated 22 countries throughout the hemisphere. In 2008, 23 countries throughout the Americas were included, and over 36,000 individuals. In 2010, 26 countries were surveyed, involving over 43,000 interviews. In 2012, which marks the latest round of surveys, 26 countries were included again, and over 41,000 surveys were carried out. The project is currently in the field for the 2014 round, which will consist of national surveys from 27 countries across the Americas. The AmericasBarometer is the most expansive regional survey project in the Western Hemisphere.
These surveys have given rise to scores of studies and publications on various aspects of democratic values and behaviors in the Americas. The project has regularly published in-depth analyses of the data collected in Spanish-language monographs in countries throughout Latin America and in English and French in the Caribbean.
Through years of polling in most of the countries of Latin America, LAPOP has developed a treasure-trove of databases of public opinion information about political viewpoints across Latin America. This data has been the basis of scores of articles in professional journals, and has been the basis of many of the 30+ Ph.D. dissertations that Seligson has supervised over the years; it has also been utilized by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in its efforts to promote Latin American democracy and, perhaps most significantly, by the governments of several Latin American countries.
The data produced has been utilized as well by the World Bank in its Governance measures. USAID has provided major support for LAPOP and is now helping to fund five Latin American graduate students studying for their doctorates under Seligson at Vanderbilt. Recently, the project has received support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), as well as the Inter-American Development Bank.