The Economic Crisis of the Nicaraguan Electorate in 1990

Categories: Economy Crisis

The Nicaraguan electorate approached the 1990 elections facing an economic crisis, mainly
caused by U.S. hostility and its imposition of embargo and a military draft caused by the Contra
War. During the elections of that year, the Nicaraguan electorate had to choose between rightist
Chamorro and incumbent socialist Ortega.

Most international observers predicted that regime direction would not be altered. However, the unexpected occurred and UNO-the rightist party was the winner of the elections. The striking election results meant that the Nicaraguan electorate had decided to change regime direction.

Learning Democracy states this happened because the electorate believed in Chamorro’s competence to advance long-term national reconstruction and peace. However, this signifies that the electorate prospectively thought about shaping the future of Nicaragua instead of immediate resolving the crisis. This contradicts American Politics literature which suggests that lower class and poorly educated citizens cannot engage in complex reasoning processes when making their vote decision.

Learning Democracy suggests the opposite happened in Nicaragua.

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In this essay I will explain how this happened by comparing and contrasting the dreadful living conditions of non-educated and lower class Nicaraguan citizens that led them to think prospectively and the flourishing living conditions of the more educated and new FSLN elite that led them to think retrospectively and finally explain the implications for democratization in developing nations of these discoveries.

Firstly, the state of crisis in 1990 helped underprivileged Nicaraguans overcome their
cognitive limitations and permitted them to shape their vote choice based on complex and
prospective reasoning. In Learning democracy Anderson and Dodd suggest that strong
preoccupation with the effect of an election in personal interests might impact the reasoning of
uneducated and lower class voters. This was the case with the non-educated Nicaraguan
electorate that faced extreme poverty. They were not benefiting from the incumbent regime due to the increasing rejection of collective demands as a consequence of the economic crisis.

This caused the non-educated electorate to consider that a regime change might actually serve better their personal interests in the future triggering their prospective reasoning. Also, the
impoverished live and the decaying living conditions caused by the U.S embargo led them to
consider prospective concerns such as candidate’s ability to reconstruct of the country, regime
direction and future direction of the economy consequently shaping their vote choice for

However, Anderson and Dodd prove in table 6.4 that their reasoning to make a vote
choice moved slower than educated Nicaraguans by showing that in November—the beginning
of the election, the non-response on vote intent was 56 % among illiterates and 24.5 among the
better educated. By the end of the campaign in February non response intent for undereducated
was 38.2% and 24.9% among more educated (189).

In contrast, Anderson and Dodd suggest that the better educated citizens were more prone to
think retrospectively when making their vote decision because prior to the 1990 election since
they had benefited from subsidized university education by the FSLB regime. This created on
them a positive image of Ortega.

As a consequence of the benefits received, they retrospectively thought about the Somoza years and saw a dramatic improvement not only in their education, but also in their economic situation. Thus, according to Anderson and Dodd they had a “self-interest to affirm the government and its performance in office, relying more fully than the less educated in retrospection (188)”. They were not thinking about changing regime direction because they were better off in terms of education and economic opportunities than under the Somoza’s regime.

Anderson and Dodd data analysis suggests that by the end of the campaign the more
educated made their decision based on two prospective concerns and two retrospective concerns:
their prospective belief that Ortega was competent to reconstruct the country and their trust on regime direction and the retrospective experiences which made them see Ortega’s image
positively and the economy as improved. These reveals their reasoning process was simpler and
much more focused on retrospective thinking unlike the non-educated who focused more on

Secondly, Anderson and Dodd argue that the personal interests of lower class Nicaraguans
were affected by the crisis, impacting the reasoning of the poorer electorate and leading them to
shape their vote decision in a conscious and prospective way. By the end of the campaign in
1990, the incumbent regime became financially unviable as a result of U.S hostility, economic
crisis and excessive fiscal spending to maintain the social programs.

The poor were the most affected since they were the ones facing food shortages, gas shortages, and goods shortages. The expected thing for poor people under these conditions would be to seek immediate crisis resolution. Instead, they prospectively reasoned that what really mattered was national reconstruction and that under Ortega’s regime that was unviable because of U.S hostility towards his policies.

This followed Chamorro’s attacks on Ortega’s governing competence during the campaign. Thus, Anderson and Todd suggest that seeing the masses skeptical about Ortega’s governing competence for the future showed that they “considered where the country was headed and its economic prospect (202)”. The highly sophisticated reasoning, although slow was triggered by the rough economic times.

This caused poor Nicaraguans to consider Ortega’s past governance record in a retrospective way, and the economic future and national reconstruction in a prospective way. As a result, a staggering 47.4 of the masses supported Chamorro over 21.9 of the masses who supported Ortega by the end of the campaign. (193). Also, women were another lower class group that prospectively thought in the future of Nicaragua as a consequence of affected personal interests.

They realized that by electing Chamorro, U.S hostility and the Contra War would end bringing peace to their homes and economic reconstruction for Nicaragua in the long-term. A staggering 47.2% percent of women decided to vote for Violeta Chamorro as a consequence of their prospective reasoning. Lower classes were aware that U.S hostility and the Contra War were not going to end were Ortega to stay in power. Prospective thinking of lower classes indicate reflective and responsible vote.

In contrast, the new elite mainly composed by FSLN militants relied more on retrospective
reasoning to make their vote choice because they were benefiting from the incumbent regime.

The Nicaraguan elite reached their vote decision through a much simpler reasoning than did
lower class citizens. It is important to note that a large group of the elite was the new elite mainly
composed by militant Sandinistas committed to revolutionary ideals. The new elite who had
benefited from the incumbent regime were convinced that Ortega was competent enough of
reversing the economic crisis and reconstructing the nation. They had that conviction that
Ortega’s leadership had moved the country forwards away from a dictatorship that starved and
humiliated millions of Nicaraguans.

They were certain that Ortega was not to blame for the crisis but U.S. hostility that imposed the embargo and funded the Contras. The new elite was constantly reassured by Ortega during the campaign that he could solve the crisis and bring peace and they trusted him because of past revolutionary experiences that overthrew the Somozas. On top of that, the U.S. invasion of Panama during the campaign strengthened their bonds towards nationalist Ortega. As a consequence, by the end of the campaign 56 percent of the elite favored Ortega.

The data analysis on Learning democracy reflects that their vote decision was shaped by one prospective concern and one retrospective concern revealing a simpler reasoning processes than the massed had. Thus, in order to make their vote decision, they prospectively thought on Ortega’s competence to lead the country in the future and the retrospective thought that the revolution had left Nicaragua better off than under the Somoza’s regime. Anderson and Dodd write that “nevertheless, the overall reasoning looks like one we would expect of privileged citizens benefiting from the regime and prepared to stay with it (202)”.

Thirdly, thoughtful and complex reasoning demonstrated by poorly educated and lower class
Nicaraguans in the 1990 elections implies the potential of third world citizens to advance
democracy though responsible vote choice. Learning democracy suggests that if given difficult
situations that compromise the personal interests of the masses such as war, poverty or even a
revolution, citizens might consciously choose to change regime direction towards more
democratic paths. Anderson and Dodd suggest that under difficult situations the third world
masses can learn the importance of having space for dissent, class interest and parties.

Subsequently, they discovered that third world citizens can also employ reasoning “processes
that can involve the sort of prospective assessments that would seem necessary for third world
citizens to change government and regimes through responsible vote choice (188)”. The accuracy
of Anderson and Dodd discoveries would imply that afflicted third world, lower class and poorly
educated citizens in Venezuela might participate in the upcoming elections of 2017 in engaged,
attentive and responsible ways.

This would move Venezuela towards a more democratic path after 16 years of non-democratic rule. Bottom-line, Learning democracy implies that we shouldn’t underestimate the capacity of third world citizens to employ complex reasoning when making their vote choice. Third world citizens can also consciously reason their way towards a more democratic future. In conclusion, the 1990 election in Nicaragua demonstrated that lower class and poorly educated citizens engaged in complex reasoning process when deciding their vote decision.

Against all predictions, the Nicaraguan electorate, specifically the non-educated and lower
classes decided to trust Chamorro’s promises of reconstructing Nicaraguan and bringing peace to
the country and consequently changed regime direction. Anderson and Dodd suggest they made
their decision by reasoning prospectively. In contrast, the better educated citizens shaped their
vote based on retrospective reasoning because they had benefited from the incumbent regime,
especially through subsidized college education.

Their self-interest made them shape their vote decision based on retrospection which made them see Ortega’s past governance positively and improved living conditions for all Nicaraguans. Their trusted Ortega was competent enough to reconstruct the nation and bring better times for Nicaragua. Their reasoning was more based on retrospection and simpler than the non-educated. Moreover, the personal interests of lower class Nicaraguans were afflicted by the economic crisis and contra war.

This impacted their reasoning and led them to shape their vote decision by retrospectively considering Ortega’s past government performance and prospectively considering national reconstruction and the economic future of Nicaragua to make their vote decision. In contrast, the new elite relied more on retrospective reasoning when making their choice because they had benefited from the incumbent regime.

As a result, by the end of the campaign, they made their vote decision with simpler reasoning which consisted on one retrospective thought that Ortega had left Nicaragua better off than under the Somoza’s regime and one prospective thought that Ortega was competent enough to lead the country in the future this reconstruct Nicaragua. Finally, the prospective, complex reasoning employed by the non-educated and lower class Nicaraguans during the 1990 elections demonstrate the potential of third world citizens to advance democracy in their countries through responsible vote choice.

Third world counties might shift non democratic regime direction towards democratic regimes by making use of the prospective reasoning processes of their citizens under difficult situations that compromise their self interests. Third world citizens also are capable of consciously voting and therefore moving towards a more democratic future.

Works Cited

  1. Anderson, Leslie, and Lawrence C. Dodd. Learning Democracy Citizen Engagement and
    Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990-2001. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2005. Print.

Cite this page

The Economic Crisis of the Nicaraguan Electorate in 1990. (2021, Oct 05). Retrieved from

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