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Elizabeth Zechmeister - Vanderbilt University. Nashville, TN, US

Elizabeth Zechmeister

Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Political Science and Director of LAPOP | Vanderbilt University


Expert in Latin American political behavior and director of the world-renowned Latin American Public Opinion Project.



Elizabeth Zechmeister Publication Elizabeth Zechmeister Publication



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State of Democracy Measured in Americas



Zechmeister received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 2003. Her research focuses on comparative political behavior and public opinion, in particular in Latin America. Her work includes studies of voting, ideology, political parties, representation, charisma, and crisis. Zechmeister has received support from the National Science Foundation for investigations into the public opinion consequences of terrorist threat and natural disaster, respectively. She has published articles in the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, Comparative Political Studies, and Political Behavior, among other outlets. She is co-author of Democracy at Risk: How Terrorist Threats Affect the Public (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and Latin American Party Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2010). She is co-editor of The Latin American Voter: Pursuing Representation and Accountability in Challenging Contexts (University of Michigan Press, 2015). In 2012, she was the recipient of the Vanderbilt A&S Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and in 2015 she received the Vanderbilt Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching. Her courses focus on Latin American politics, Mexican politics, research design, and comparative political behavior and public opinion.

Areas of Expertise (9)



Latin America

Comparative Politics

Latin America Democracy

Latin America Politics

Public opinion polling

Public Opinion

South America

Accomplishments (1)

Vanderbilt Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (professional)


Education (3)

Duke University: Ph.D., Political Science 2003

Distinction in Exams

University of Chicago: M.A., Latin American Studies 1996

Loyola University Chicago: B.A. 1994

Summa Cum Laude

Affiliations (4)

  • Journal of Experimental Political Science : Associate Editor
  • Comparative Political Studies : Editorial Board Member
  • Journal of Politics : Editorial Board Member
  • Political Behavior : Editorial Board Member

Selected Media Appearances (8)

Behind Latin America’s protests, a fading faith in democracy

Christian Science Monitor  online


“Democracy has been failing to deliver on its promise,” says Elizabeth Zechmiester, who directs the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University, which has tracked trends in democracy and public satisfaction in the region since 2004. “People feel less safe, more economically vulnerable, and that governments aren’t doing enough to respond to their basic needs.”

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The Key Factors for Protests Around the World

WNYC The Takeaway  radio


We are seeing increasing civil unrest around the world, with protests in Ecuador, Peru, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Chile, Lebanon, and Haiti, among others. While these countries have different forms of government and different circumstances, at the heart of many of these protests are the increasing level of inequality and distrust, and disgust, with the inner workings of government. Are these mass movements a tipping point?

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Latin America awash in troubles amid protests, uprisings and a distracted Washington

Miami Herald  online


“Peru and Ecuador are really interesting studies in contrast,” said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a political science professor at Vanderbilt and the director of the survey, known as LAPOP. “They are both experiencing instability but for very different reasons,” she said. In Peru, crime and corruption are dominant themes “and growing irritants in the daily lives of Peruvians,” she said. “At the same time, the ruling class is seen as corrupt and unresponsive.”

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How a Vanderbilt professor is working with Facebook to understand fake news

Nashville Business Journal  online


Facebook is offering up its data up as a gold mine for academic research with the help of Social Science One, an independent commission of experts that includes two Vanderbilt political science professors, Dr. Elizabeth Zechmeister and Dr. Noam Lupu.

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Did Maduro's party really dominate Sunday's election in Venezuela? These polls should make you skeptical.

Washington Post  online


Venezuelans went to the polls Sunday to elect 23 new state governors. According to the polling, opposition candidates aligned with the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) stood to win 13 to 16 of those states. That didn’t happen.

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How terrorist attacks can change opinions and elections — including the 2016 election

Washington Post  online


Following the deadly terrorist attacks in Lebanon and Paris last week, international terrorism has again taken center stage. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both attacks, and has called them “the first of the storm.” In a new video released Monday, the group has threatened similar attacks on those conducting airstrikes in Syria, singling out Washington, D.C.

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Exclusive: Most Americans support torture against terror suspects - Reuters/Ipsos poll

Reuters  online


“The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions,” said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between terrorist threats and public opinion. “Fear, anger, general anxiety: (Trump) gives a certain credibility to these feelings,” she said.

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Poll: Most Americans back torture of 'terror' suspects

Al Jazeera  online


"The public right now is coping with a host of negative emotions," said Elizabeth Zechmeister, a Vanderbilt University professor who has studied the link between attack threats and public opinion. "Fear, anger, general anxiety: [Trump] gives a certain credibility to these feelings," she said.

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Selected Event Appearances (5)

The Political Culture of Democracy in the Americas, 2016/17: A Comparative Study of Democracy and Governance

Florida International University  Florida International University


How News Consumption Shapes the Security Agenda: Evidence from Latin America

Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship  McGill University


News Consumption, Crime, and the National Agenda. Political Behavior Workshop

UC-Riverside  Riverside, CA


How Does Terrorism Affect the Way We Think About Politics?

Vanderbilt Alumni Chapter – North Carolina  Raleigh, NC


Using Technology to Improve the Quality of Face-to-Face Surveys: LAPOP’s FALCON

Conference on La Precision de las Encuestas Electorales  Mexico’s Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE) and CIDE, Mexico City


Selected Articles (5)

Electoral Volatility in Latin America

The Journal of Politics

Mollie J. Cohen, Facundo E. Salles Kobilanski, and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister

2018 Using an original database of legislative and presidential electoral results from the democratic transitions of the 1970s and 1980s to the present day, we provide a new assessment of electoral volatility in Latin America. Following a model established in studies of other regions, we decompose volatility into two subtypes: party replacement and stable party volatility.

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Maximizing Benefits from Survey-Based Research

PS: Political Science & Politics

Noam Lupu and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister

2018 Despite the best intentions, only a small proportion of social science research findings are input into dialogue, policy, or other actions that improve human welfare.

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Threat and Information Acquisition: Evidence from an Eight Country Study

Journal of Experimental Political Science

Jennifer L. Merolla and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister

2018 We assess individuals’ responses to news about threat, compared to news about positive indicators of well-being, using data from nine experiments conducted across eight countries. The general proposition is that exposure to news about threat increases tendencies to “tune in” to information, compared to those presented with news about better times.

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Can experience overcome stereotypes in times of terror threat?

Research & Politics

Mirya R. Holman, Jennifer L. Merolla, Elizabeth J. Zechmeister

2017 Research on evaluations of leaders has frequently found that female leaders receive lower ratings in times of national security crisis. However, less is known about countervailing factors. We contend that partisanship and leadership experience in relevant domains are two factors that can counteract the negative effects of terrorist threat on evaluations of female political leaders.

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Representing the national economic agenda in Latin America: Variation by fat and lean times and party brands

Electoral Studies

Oscar Castorena, Elizabeth J. Zechmeister

2017 Representation is greater when legislators and voters agree on the national agenda. Under what conditions are higher degrees of “issue priority representation” more likely? Our answer focuses on economic conditions and party branding dynamics, and the case of Latin America. With mass and elite survey data we show that economic hard times and left-leaning preferences increase the prioritization of economic issues.

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