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Democracy, according to a large body of research, contributes to human development by improving citizens' lives (Prezeworkski et al. 2000; Gerrign et al. 2012; McGuire 2010; Baum and Lake 2003; Gerring et al. 2015). Broad evidence demonstrates that democracies provide higher standards of living, on average, for their citizens than authoritarian countries (Boix 2001; Brown and Hunter 2004; Brown and Mobarak 2009; Besley and Kudamatsu 2006; Lake and Baum 2001). But what is it about democratic practice that enhances the quality of its citizens' lives? Proponents argue that democratic practices such as competitive elections, checks and balances, and protection of individual rights contribute to government's responsiveness to citizens' demands, which in turn improves the quality of government performance and citizens' well-being (Rueschemayer, Stephens, and Stephens 1992; Przeworkski et al. 2000; Fox 2015; Sen 1999; Diamond 1999; Gerring et al. 2015; O'Donnell 1998). But many new democracies are beset by weak party systems, low voter knowledge, entrenched clientelistic practices, fragmented states, and partial protection of the rights formally guaranteed by new constitutions. These limitations often combine to hinder the ability of democratically elected governments to improve basic human development (Przeworski et al. 1999; O'Donnell 1998; Weyland 1996; Cleary 2010). And yet, some new democracies are new improving and expanding public goods provisions, which enhances citizens' basic social well-being and helps them to develop basic capabilities (Sen 1999; Gerring et al. 2015). In this article, we identify three casual pathways that establish a close link between democracy and human capabilities to provide a more robust accounting of how specific features of democratic regimes lead to specific improvements in human development. It is important to note that we control for elections' potential influence on local poverty rates, but we argue that elections are too distant from ongoing policy cycles to impact poverty directly. Instead, we present evidence for specific institutions and policies' role for reducing local poverty in Brazil. We also control for economic growth, which represents the dominant explanation for poverty reduction in Brazil and around the world.

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This document was originally published in Conference Papers: Southern Political Science Association by the Southern Political Science Association. Copyright restrictions may apply.