Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Longitudinal Social Study of Chile reveals persistent distrust towards institutions

This week, the results of the Social Longitudinal Study of Chile, carried out by the Center for Studies of Conflict and Social Cohesion (COES) , a center sponsored by the UC and the University of Chile and which includes the Diego Portales University and the Adolfo Ibáñez as associated institutions.

The ELSOC is a survey that seeks to follow a representative group of 4,500 people over a decade (2016 to 2026), in order to find out how the opinions of Chileans change —and thus evaluate the evolution of the conflict and social cohesion in the country—in various aspects such as political identification and participation, mental health and well-being, attitudes towards migration, sexism, and meritocracy.

It is a “unique resource in Chile and Latin America to analyze the evolution of Chilean society and for the development of social sciences in Chile,” as stated in its report, just released this week.

The authors of this survey are also professors and researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences UC Roberto González (Psychology UC), Matías Bargsted (Sociology UC), Ana Figuereido (Psychology UC) and Daniel Miranda (MIDE UC), together with a group of assistants, coordinators and collaborating researchers.

Politics: Chileans, increasingly from the “center”
According to the report Radiography of Social Change: Analysis of Longitudinal Results ELSOC 2016-2021 , only 47% of Chileans have maintained their political position: the rest mostly move towards the center. This means, according to Professor González, that “only half of those who declared themselves to be left or right five years ago maintain their opinion”, and “what is interesting about it is where they move: because the center is the space where ideological change over these years is concentrated”. Likewise, the report points out, non-identification with ideological positions —the “apolitical” Chilean—has ceased to be a majority response.

“Only half of those who declared themselves to be left or right five years ago maintain their opinion. The interesting thing about it is where they move: because the center is the space where ideological change is concentrated over these years” – Roberto González, principal investigator COES

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The ideological change is closely related to the age of the people surveyed. “Young people between 18 and 29 are the ones who have changed their position the most. This happens because over the years it becomes more stable,” adds the academic.


Social trust: in decline

“Chile is becoming a society that adheres to the norm, but distrusts institutions,” said Matías Bargsted. Photo: Karina Fuenzalida.
In 2016, 10% of the sample noted that “people can almost always be trusted.” That percentage increased to 12.2% in 2017 and 12.4% in 2018, but fell slightly to 11.4% in 2019 and, more sharply, to 7.9% in 2021. This level of decrease is observed for the first time in the ELSOC, according to its report.

Year after year -says the report-, the percentage of people surveyed who mention trusting ‘A lot’ or ‘Quite a lot’ in Congress and Political Parties does not even reach 5% of the population. Likewise, the Judiciary Power and the President of the Republic register levels that barely exceed 10% during their best years. The only institution that manages to reach higher levels, without detriment to a pronounced drop during the observation period, is Carabineros de Chile with a minimum confidence level of 20.6% in 2019 and 24.7% in 2021.

Several institutions such as the Congress, the Government and the Carabineros experience a pronounced drop in trust in 2019. The first two institutions even reach tiny single-digit levels, presumably associated with the social unrest, while the levels manage to recover slightly in 2021. “No fluctuations are observed in the political parties since the confidence levels do not even reach 1% in 2019 and 2020. Although the increases observed during the last wave are very embryonic, it is possible that they are the result of the process of constitutional change, that supposes the elaboration of a new political institution -the Constitutional Convention-“, maintains the report.

The social outbreak of October 2019 “further decreased trust in institutions,” says Professor Matías Bargsted. “Chile is becoming a society that adheres to the norm, but distrusts institutions.”

Mental health and well-being: contrasts
In 2016, 76.6% of people felt “satisfied or very satisfied with their life”, a figure that remained relatively stable in 2017 and 2018, but fell to 70.4% in 2019 and rose to 83.7% in 2021. According to the report, this phenomenon may be linked to the context of the social outbreak of October 2019 (since the survey was conducted in November of that year) and to the slight improvement in the health situation, among others reasons.

This contrasts, however, with the percentage that over time responds that “their health is very good or excellent.” Only 15.7% say so in 2016 and 15.8% in 2021 (with a drop to 11.1% in 2019). Regarding mental health, it is the people with fewer resources who have felt more depressive symptoms and this percentage decreases in the richest quintiles. “This is also consistent with the fact that people with higher levels of education report fewer moderate or severe symptoms, while ¼ sees the poorest people report it,” says COES associate researcher Ana Figueiredo.

“(Regarding depressive symptomatology in the field of mental health), people with higher levels of education report less moderate or severe symptomatology, while ¼ sees the poorest people report it” – Ana Figueiredo, COES associate researcher

Social cohesion: neighbors a little more annoying
For example, while in 2016, 27.7% of Chileans reported never having had problems with their neighbors, this value dropped to 23.5% in 2021. Likewise, regarding the percentage of people who declares the occurrence of crimes many times or always in the neighborhood of residence, this percentage has been relatively the same over time, fluctuating between 30.3% in 2016 and 28.6% in 2021.

“This study was carried out with the participation of various researchers and collaborators who nourished its different sections, and many of the 90 batteries presented here are the work of the more than 90 academics who make up the Center for Studies on Conflict and Social Cohesion (COES )”, specifies Roberto González.

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