Table of Contents
Research Design and Methodology
As globalisation continues to increase and new technologies make communication over long distances more accessible, it should come as no surprise that migrants play a role in shaping their home country’s politics. As a new democracy, and the home country of many migrants, Mexico provides a fascinating landscape to research these developments. According to the World Bank, approximately 2% of Mexico’s GDP comes from financial remittances (2014). How do remittances shape Mexican politics?
Remittance is often spoken of in terms of finances - even Webster defines remittance as “a transmittal of money (as to a distant place)” (2018). Even so, it is important to consider the effect of social remittances as well, which is “the exchange” (or transmittal, as Webster likes to say) “of ideas, skills, practices and know-how” (Calhoun, 2002). The political process is shaped by more than economy and finances, and although both play an important role, it is necessary to consider the social aspects that contribute to policy and democratization as well.
While much research has been done on the economic and social effects of remittances, there is a clear gap in studies on the political consequences. Economics and social values form political issues and movements, so it is important to understand how remittances contribute to politics as well. With anti-immigration sentiments playing a large role in recent political movements, there has been a focus on the effects of immigration in receiving countries, as opposed to sending countries. Additionally, research on the effects of remittance tends to span a variety of countries, usually involving those in Latin America and those in Southeast Asia. I hope to instead, provide an in-depth look at the way remittance effects democratization in Mexico.
Social remittance through family members living in countries with more developed democracies can make individuals more critical of their own country’s politics (Crow & Perez-Armendariz, 2017). Financial remittance can make individuals less reliant on patronage systems (Waddell, 2015). Based on this information, I hypothesize that remittance helps promote democratization in Mexico through increased political engagement, holding institutions accountable and encouraging competitive elections.
Because a large portion of the literature on the topic of remittances in Mexico is older, I made an effort to focus on recent research. Due to the amount of significant literature from the 2000s, the articles analyzed date as far back as 2008. Using older articles would have likely skewed statistics related to remittance, as well as the state of Mexican politics then compared to more recent years. Studies on the political outcomes of remittances in migrants’ home countries is still a relatively new field, making research (especially after 2000) limited; it was difficult to find pieces from a political science perspective as opposed to sociological/anthropological views.
Burgess (2012) similarly calls political science research on remittances “a phenomenon that sociologists have been studying for decades,” sharing the view that not enough research had yet been done from a political science perspective. Burgess acknowledges the role migrants play in home country politics, specifically how they are “increasingly proactive in reaching out to migrants in search of economic and political support” (2012). She also highlights the important role remittance plays in the political economy, and finally the way in which migrants have begun to organize in response to the conditions of their home country (Burgess, 2012). Collective remittance organizations can provide key resources to encourage development in migrants’ home communities (Burgess, 2012).
Remittances and Democratization (Escriba, Meseguer & Wright, 2015) provides insight on how remittances make citizens less dependent on state-provided income. They argue that, as a result, party-based dictatorships are more vulnerable and remittances can help countries with those regimes move towards democratization (Escriba et al, 2015). While this article qualifies as recent and insightful about the effects of remittances in certain nondemocratic regimes, Mexico has been a democracy since 2000. Remittances and Democratization (Escriba et al, 2015) is still relevant to the topic, considering patronage systems are still present in Mexico (Waddell, 2015). Therefore, it is important to note how remittances can make dominant parties vulnerable.
Talks Without Borders: Why Political Discussion Makes Latin Americans with Relatives Abroad More Critical of Their Democracies (Crow & Perez-Armendariz, 2017) studies social remittances between migrants and family in their sending country. Crow and Perez-Armendariz use twenty Latin American countries in order to study the political consequences of “cross-border political discussion and transnational social contexts” (2017). While Crow and Perez-Armendariz note that Mexicans with migrant relatives are less politically informed, this still cannot undermine the importance social remittance plays in democratization (2017). How informed the people are aside, Crow and Perez-Armendariz note the importance of political discussion between ordinary citizens (2017). Political discussion and critique of one’s democracy is important in encouraging political engagement (Crow & Perez-Armendariz, 2017).
As previously mentioned, not all studies on remittances focus on a single country, but instead use many. For example, a study on remittances and corruption uses an astounding 127 countries in order to research the topic (Tyburski, 2014). While this provides a broad view to compare the effect of remittances on corruption in democratic regimes compared to authoritarian regimes, some of the depth is lost in its breadth.
A mere eleven pages, Tyburski thoroughly talks about his theory but does not provide enough on the countries used - likely because so many countries were studied (2014). How comparable are these countries and what is the possibility that the use of so many, in some of which the author notes to have limited data and observations, skew the results (Tyburski, 2014)? Nevertheless, Tyburski still provides important information about social remittances, including the fact that there are often migrants from the same communities which is why political change may occur in their hometowns (2014).
Similar to what I found when looking for literature, an International Migration editorial by Nicola Piper and Stefan Rother finds a lack of research explicitly linking democratization and migration (2015). While this does not specify remittances, as they are a part of migration, it was useful to see other authors highlight this gap (Piper & Rother, 2015). They note that 1990s research on new democracies, while specifying “agents of change,” migrants were often not included (Piper & Rother, 2015). More importantly, Piper and Rother state that recent studies often neglect that migrants to democratic countries may not benefit from the country’s practices, as migrants are sometimes treated as second-class citizens (2015).
Of course, little research on the topic does not mean that there is not any research on the political effects of remittances in Mexico. Of such studies, there is a focus on Mexico’s 3x1 para Migrantes program which matches remittances in order to encourage development (Waddell, 2015). Waddell also discusses the effect of financial remittance on democratization, but also seeks to find how municipal governments may manipulate the program in order to garner support during election cycles (2015).
Meseguer and Burgess (2014) also use Mexico in their research regarding how migrants affect the politics of their home country. They identify Kapur’s (2014) channels of influence by migrants’ remittance: first, prospect, which involves expectations of migration, claiming this can lead to political disengagement or a desire to be more competitive in their new job market; second, absence, where politics are shaped by the gap migrants leave in their communities; third, returning migrants with new ideas and potentially more capital; and finally, diaspora, through which migrants influence their home countries from abroad (Burgess & Meseguer, 2014). In identifying these channels, Burgess and Meseguer investigate how each can have a different impact on political engagement (and therefore, democratization as well) (2014).
Lopez Garcia (2018) studies whether state programs act as a substitute for financial remittance, as well as the negative effect financial remittance has on voter turnout in Mexico. Lopez Garcia (2018) does acknowledge that there are more forms of political participation this study did not focus on. Meseguer and Burgess (2014) acknowledge the important effect remittance can have on civic engagement, showing a positive correlation between remittance recipients and membership in civic organizations. It will be crucial to look into all forms of political engagement when studying the effect of remittance on Mexican politics.
Burgess (2012) chose to focus on El Salvador and Mexico, and notes that coordination with elected officials is uncommon. She also highlights the need for accountability, which will have to come from current citizens’ pressure as opposed to migrants’ organizations in their new countries (Burgess, 2012). Burgess’ research also acknowledges the important role Vicente Fox played in migrants having a hand in Mexican politics (2012).
Waldinger (2014) used a political sociological analysis to study the relationship between the Mexican state and migrants, including the effects of remittances. His findings identify the conflict of immigrants wanting acceptance in their new communities, but emigrants wanting engagement and connection with their home country (Waldinger, 2014). Collective remittance can serve as a channel through which emigrants can continue to support and engage with their home country.
Fox and Bada (2008) released an article on how migration effects rural democratization and development in Mexico, including the effects of remittances in their study. Ahmed (2017) uses the effects on incumbents in order to study the effect of remittance on elections. I also found that the language of American published journals differed from that in internationally published journals, perhaps a reflection of a portion of the US population’s opinions on Latin American immigrants. Titles involving “free income” can be misleading, when remittance in Mexico is often complementary, not supplementary (Waddell, 2015; Lopez Garcia, 2018).
While this may seem like sufficient research, there is a gap in focusing on more than one part of democratization in a single country. As Lopez Garcia (2018) only conducted research on voter turnout, I seek to investigate other factors of democratization in relation to remittance.
3% of the world’s population lives in a country different than their country of birth (Burgess & Meseguer, 2014), so it should be unsurprising that this creates political consequences. Further, around $325 billion is spent on remittances (Burgess & Meseguer, 2014; World Bank, 2006, 2011), which likely effects the political views of recipients.
Given the way remittance funds can decrease dependence on state programs, even if it does not make them unnecessary, this can change the way Mexican citizens view their government (Lopez Garcia, 2018). Additionally, the independence from state programs can force institutions to be held accountable as their funds no longer secure a vote from citizens (Waddell, 2015). Finally, discussion with relatives abroad can encourage political involvement such as running for local office and also creating a dialogue that can critique the home country’s government (Crow & Perez-Armendariz, 2017).
Based on this information, I hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 1: Because migrants encourage relatives at home to criticize their government, they will be more likely to engage in the political process.
Hypothesis 2a: Financial remittances make patronage programs less effective, thereby encouraging competitive elections.
Hypothesis 2b: Remittances as a complement for income can encourage candidates and institutions to be held accountable for what they claim to accomplish.
Hypothesis 3: Through institutional accountability, an increase in political participation and competitive elections, remittance encourages democratization in Mexico.
These hypotheses investigate all parts of my original claim and finally come together to investigate my main hypothesis as a whole. In new democracies like Mexico, making sure elections are competitive, institutions are accountable and citizens are participating in the political process is a major part of developing democracies. As Mexico is also the home country of many migrants, and many of its citizens receive remittances, it is important to see how this can shape the country’s politics (Lopez Garcia, 2018) and encourage further democratization.