This dissertation examines the political construction of public attitudes towards crime in Latin America. Crime has surfaced as the most salient issue on the public agenda in much of Latin America in recent years, and it poses a serious threat to democracy in the region. Crime threatens citizen security, undermines democratic governance, corrupts state institutions, and discourages economic investment. However, despite the threat crime poses to democratic governance in Latin America, a scholarly literature on this question is only just starting to emerge. This dissertation adds to this literature by arguing that citizen support for authoritarian responses to the crime problem cannot be explained only by looking at violent crime rates and personal victimization. Inspired by the political science literature on media effects and sociological literature on crime and deviance, this dissertation contends that how citizens perceive crime drives support for authoritarian crime control. Focusing on the political construction of public attitudes, it tests hypotheses that link indirect experience via the news media with support for authoritarian crime control measures.
Using Guatemala, El Salvador, and Argentina as cases for a focused comparison, this dissertation relies on extensive content analysis of newspaper coverage of crime, an original survey experiment, and data from the AmericasBarometer surveys to tests the relationship between crime news and support for authoritarian crime control measures. It finds that the news media plays both an agenda setting and issue framing role. By setting the public agenda, the news media raises citizens? awareness of crime as a pressing public issue. Crime news also influences attitudes towards crime through its mediated relationship with citizen support for authoritarian crime control measures via its effects on fear of crime and self-reported victimization.