Making Democracy Count: Opinion Polls and Market Surveys in the Chilean Political Transition

Peer Reviewed


Julia Paley, "Chile."

In this article I explore the forms of power that quantification enacts in post-dictatorship Chile. My results are based on research conducted in 1990-92 in a poblacion in the southern zone of Santiago, just after Chile's transition from military to elected-civilian rule. At that time, polls and surveys were being administered to judge residents' electoral choices, political attitudes, and consumer preferences. The widespread use of polling—including in poor urban neighborhoods—reflected a merging of marketing, politics, and social science unique, in Chile, to the period surrounding and following the transition to democracy. Additionally, I examine power exercised primarily through polls and secondarily through market surveys, and the mechanisms through which social movements—including community organizations such as the health group Llareta—have both resisted and appropriated statistical knowledge. The article shows how polling and the construction of public opinion through quantification play a key governance role in a democracy in which citizens have little influence over major public decisions, and correspondingly, how social movements contest the subject effects of quantification by making themselves the authors, not just objects, of statistical knowledge.

Related Links

Education Popular en Salud Official website

National Democratic Institute for International Affairs Official website

Related Works

Paley, Julia (2001) Marketing Democracy: Power and Social Movements in Post-Dictatorship Chile. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Patriarca, Silvana (1996) Numbers and Nationhood: Writing Statistics in Nineteenth-Century Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Urla, Jacqueline (1993) "Cultural Politics in an Age of Statistics: Numbers, Nations, and the Making of Basque Identity." American Ethnologist 20(4):818-843.

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