Voter in El Salvador.

A voter in El Salvador. (AP)

2024 Elections in Latin America: A Preview

By Chase Harrison , Jon Orbach and Jennifer Vilcarino

The Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, and—probably—Venezuela will pick presidents while Latinos will help decide the U.S. outcome.

This article was updated on January 10, 2024 to include a newly announced Mexican presidential candidate.

Worldwide, 2024 is being called the year of elections, with more than 60 countries holding elections. Latin America will be represented among them, with the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Panama, Mexico, and Uruguay scheduled to choose new presidents. Venezuela is also expected to hold a presidential election, though the date was undetermined at the time of publishing. Other countries, such as Brazil and Chile, will have municipal votes. On top of all, the United States will hold a presidential race in which Latino voters will play a pivotal role.

What can we expect from the region’s voters this year? Will the next round of elections buck the region’s anti-incumbency trend? AS/COA Online looks at 2024 national elections in countries holding presidential elections.

El Salvador
  • On the ballot: President, vice president, all 60 members of the unicameral National Assembly
  • Election date: February 4 for president and legislature. March 3 for local races and a possible presidential runoff.
  • Election details: A candidate must receive over 50 percent of the vote in the presidential first round to avoid a March 3 runoff. The president and vice president serve five-year terms. 
  • About voting: Voting is not compulsory. In the last presidential election, in 2019, turnout was 51 percent.

Nayib Bukele is the most popular leader in Latin America—and arguably the world—with a CID-Gallup poll putting his approval rating at 92 percent in November. The Salvadoran leader, who helms his own New Ideas party, has overseen a controversial policy involving a crackdown on gangs that saw homicide rates plummet, but at the cost of constitutional civil rights. His government also introduced Bitcoin as legal tender and weakened of judicial autonomy. All the while, he’s extensively used social media tools to broadcast his presidency.

El Salvador has a constitutional prohibition on presidential reelection, though a 2021 Supreme Court decision challenged that, ruling it permissible if the president leaves their post for six months prior to the start of the next presidential term. On November 30, the National Assembly granted Bukele that leave of absence

Polling from November puts no other candidate over 3 percent. The best-performing opposition candidates come from El Salvador’s traditional political parties. The leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) is represented by former Mayor and Assemblyman Manuel Flores. The right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) is running businessman Joel Sánchez, a first-time political candidate.

A new reform will make voting from abroad easier, potentially expanding the electorate to include El Salvador’s large diaspora.

  • On the ballot: President, vice president, all 71 members of the unicameral National Assembly 
  • Election date: May 5 
  • Election details: The presidential candidate who earns the largest portion of votes is the winner and serves a five-year term. There is no runoff. 
  • About voting: Voting is compulsory in Panama. Panamanians abroad can vote for president. In the last general election, in 2019, turnout was 73 percent.

Panama exploded into large-scale protests in October 2023 over the renewal of a copper mining contract. While the Panamanian Supreme Court suspended that contract in November, the protests revealed deep dissatisfaction with the incumbent government and the political system at large. 

Panamanian presidents can seek reelection after two terms out of office. That renders current President Laurentino Cortizo ineligible but permits former President Ricardo Martinelli (2009–2014) to run. Martinelli, a businessman and supermarket magnate embroiled in corruption scandals, is the frontrunner at the time of publication, with a platform that promotes business development and security—both major themes during his presidency. If elected, Martinelli would gain immunity from his July 2023 sentencing to 10 years in prison for money laundering. 

Martinelli is joined by nine other candidates for the top post, including another former president, Martín Torrijos (2004–2009). Additional hopefuls include current Vice President José Gabriel Carrizo and former Foreign Secretary Rómulo Roux—a centrist who finished as the runner-up in the last presidential contest. The third-place finisher in that competition, lawyer Ricardo Lombana, is running again with an anti-corruption and austerity message. An October Gallup poll gave Martinelli 43 percent of voter intention. Roux polled at 9 percent, Torrijos at 8 percent, and Lombana at 7 percent.

Dominican Republic
  • On the ballot: President, vice president, 190 deputies and 32 senators in Congress 
  • Election date: May 19 general elections with a potential June 30 presidential runoff 
  • Election details: A candidate must earn over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a presidential runoff. Otherwise, the top two contenders will face each other in a runoff. Reelection rules have changed multiple times in the country, but currently presidents can run for consecutive reelection and serve up to two terms thanks to a 2015 constitutional reform.
  • About voting: Voting is not compulsory. During the 2020 elections, which coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, turnout was 55 percent

President Luis Abinader of the Modern Revolutionary Party announced his bid for reelection in August 2023. As of November, he held a 70-percent approval rating, making him one of the most popular leaders in the region. Under his leadership, the Dominican Republic has had among the highest GDP growth rates in Latin America, per ECLAC. 

Abinader will face a candidate who will be supported by three major opposition parties: the Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD), the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), and People’s Force (FP). Opposition contenders include former President Leonel Fernández (1996–2000 and 2004–2012) of the FP and Abel Martínez of the PLD who have both criticized the current administration's handling of the dengue outbreak and increasing arrival of Haitian migrants. A November Gallup poll put Abinader at 55 percent of voter intention with Fernández at 27 percent and Martínez at 13 percent.

Before Dominicans pick a president, they will participate in municipal elections on February 18. 

  • On the ballot: President, all 128 senators and 500 deputies, nine governors. Mexico does not have a vice president. 
  • Election date: June 2 
  • Election details: There are no runoffs in Mexico. The candidate who earns the largest portion of votes wins a single, six-year term. 
  • About voting: Voting is not mandatory in Mexico. The turnout in the 2018 general elections hit 63 percent.

Nearly six years ago, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, swept into Mexico’s presidency in elections that also saw his party, Morena, win governorships and a majority in both houses of Congress. Since then, Morena’s power has expanded in the country, buoyed by the president’s high approval rating. But reelection is not permitted, and his presidency will end on October 1, 2024.

Instead, Mexico is poised to have its first woman president. AMLO’s favored successor, former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, is running as the nominee for the governing coalition, made up of Morena, the Labor Party, and the Green Party. A scientist by training, she has promised to continue carrying out AMLO’s statist vision, known as the Fourth Transformation. With both AMLO and his party garnering high levels of popularity, Sheinbaum has established herself as the double-digit frontrunner, though she’ll have to defend her party’s record in areas for which the government has earned low marks from the public, including healthcare, violence, and organized crime. 

The main opposition coalition—known as the Broad Front for Mexico and made up of the National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolution Party, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution—will be represented Xóchitl Gálvez. The former PAN senator was not viewed as a presidential contender until June 2023, when her high-profile and public spats with the president helped catapult her into the political limelight and launch her candidacy. Still, Gálvez trails Sheinbaum as she pitches a vision for economic growth powered by nearshoring and liberalizing the energy sector. A third party, Citizen’s Movement, is expected to nominate Federal Deputy Jorge Álvarez Máynez as its candidate. No independent candidate received sufficient signatures to make it on the ballot.

These elections will be the biggest in Mexico’s history, marking the first time all 32 states will hold concurrent local elections. Overall, more than 20,000 seats are up for grabs. In addition to 629 federal seats, voters will elect nine governors, nearly 1,100 state legislators, and over 18,200 municipal posts.

  • On the ballot: President, vice president, all 30 senators, all 99 representatives 
  • Election date: October 27. A presidential runoff may be held November 24. 
  • Election details: The winner of the presidential vote will serve a single, five-year term. A candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the vote to win in the first round. 
  • About voting: Voting is compulsory. Turnout in recent presidential elections in Uruguay hovers around 90 percent

As of October 2023, center-right President Luis Lacalle Pou’s approval rating stood at 48 percent, with 32 percent disapproval, but Uruguayans will have to select a new president as the country doesn’t allow for consecutive reelection. And while the current leader’s support levels run high in a Latin American context, that doesn’t ensure his governing alliance will win in late October. In fact, polls indicate a tight race between the two main coalitions. Before election day, Uruguay will hold primary-like internal elections on June 30 in which coalitions will select their candidates.

A December 6, 2023 Factum poll shows the ruling Multicolor Coalition—made up of Lacalle Pou’s National Party, the moderate Colorado Party, the far-right Open Council, and other parties—leading by a small amount with 45 percent support. At the time of publication, the National Party’s top candidate was Lacalle Pou’s right-hand man: Secretary of the Presidency Álvaro Delgado. The veterinarian and former senator will face off against other National Party politicians, such as economist and former Montevideo mayoral candidate Laura Raffo, in the internal elections.

On the other side is the leftist Broad Front coalition, which governed the country for 15 years before Lacalle Pou’s victory in 2019 and has strong ties with the country’s labor and social movements. The Broad Front’s candidate lost the 2019 runoff by just 1.6 percent. The December Factum poll shows the Front just three points behind the governing coalition. The Front’s top candidates this time include two current mayors, Canelones’ Yamandú Orsi and Montevideo’s Carolina Cosse.

Crime could be a major focus of this election, with homicide rates having increased since the pandemic and a major narcotrafficking case drawing national attention.

United States
  • On the ballot: President, vice president, all 435 representatives and 33 of 100 senators in Congress, and 11 governorships 
  • Election date: November 5 
  • Election details: The president and vice president are elected through the electoral college. This is the process by which a state is designated electoral votes based on the sum of their total house and Senate members. The candidate who wins the majority of the votes takes all the electoral votes of that state. Presidents can serve two terms. 
  • About voting: Voting is not compulsory. The 2020 voter turnout was the highest in the twenty-first century at 67 percent

In November 2024, the United States will hold a presidential election that’s looking to be a rematch of the 2020 contest between current President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump (2017–2021). However, questions of Trump’s eligibility abound as he faces criminal investigations and some states move to strike his eligibility. Like in 2020, both candidates see each other as an existential threat to American democracy. The polarized presidential race will likely color Senate and House races.

Latinos make up one in every five people in the United States. Though Latinos traditionally vote for Democrats, Trump made inroads with this group in 2020, especially by tapping into frustration from those affected financially by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2024, the top concerns of Latino voters include inflation, the economy, and immigration, though young Latinos also are looking to candidates’ stances on matters like abortion and gun control. Latinos make up a large portion of the voting bloc in swing states, such as Arizona, Florida, and Nevada.

Issues related to Latin America, like immigration policy, drug—particularly fentanyl—trafficking, regional trade, and China’s growing influence in the region are already animating the race. In addition, 2024 features a rare alignment of the U.S. and Mexican presidential races, which may raise the profile of bilateral relations.

  • On the ballot: President, vice president 
  • Election date: Not yet scheduled. The opposition and the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela signed an agreement that the vote would take place in the second half of 2024. 
  • Election details: The winner of the vote would start a six-year term on January 10, 2025. 
  • About voting: Venezuela had an eligible voter population of 21.8 million people as of 2021 and voting is not compulsory. Turnout in the 2018 presidential election was 46 percent.

Venezuela’s autocratic leader Nicolás Maduro is under international pressure to hold free and fair elections in 2024, but it’s far from a guarantee that his regime will comply. His government, in power since 2013, is known for electoral irregularities and stifling opponents. In October, though, he and the opposition agreed on an electoral roadmap for 2024, as a condition for Washington removing some sanctions on the country’s oil and gas sectors for six months.

In October, Unitary Platform’s María Corina Machado triumphed in an opposition-organized primary with impressive turnout, but Maduro denounced the vote as a sham. The vote attracted 2.4 million people, 93 percent of whom supported Machado. She is among various Venezuelan opposition politicians banned from running in the still-theoretical election—in her case since June 2023. Washington threatened to rescind sanctions relief by November 30, 2023 if, among other stipulations, Maduro’s government failed to allow for Machado’s candidacy. Right before the deadline, an opposition faction and the ruling regime agreed on a system in which candidates can appeal their bans.

On December 3, 2023, Maduro held a five-question referendum on whether the country should annex the Essequibo—a disputed oil-rich territory that’s a de facto part of neighboring Guyana. While the regime claimed 10.4 million voters showed up, reports from the ground indicate the actual number of voters was well short of that number. Analysts suggest Maduro had a hard time mobilizing voters, which could suggest a problem for him in the presidential election.

Is This the Fall of Nicolás Maduro?

"The fundamental issue is political survival, not conquest," writes AS/COA's Eric Farnsworth in The Spectator about the Venezuelan leader's recent actions.