Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Democracy at Work: Moving Beyond Elections to Improve Well-Being


How does democracy work to improve well-being? In this article, we disentangle the component parts of democratic practice—elections, civic participation, expansion of social provisioning, local administrative capacity—to identify their relationship with well-being. We draw from the citizenship debates to argue that democratic practices allow citizens to gain access to a wide range of rights, which then serve as the foundation for improving social well-being. Our analysis of an original dataset covering over 5,550 Brazilian municipalities from 2006 to 2013 demonstrates that competitive elections alone do not explain variation in infant mortality rates, one outcome associated with well-being. We move beyond elections to show how participatory institutions, social programs, and local state capacity can interact to buttress one another and reduce infant mortality rates. It is important to note that these relationships are independent of local economic growth, which also influences infant mortality. The result of our thorough analysis offers a new understanding of how different aspects of democracy work together to improve a key feature of human development.

Corresponding author
Michael Touchton is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Miami. Department of Political Science, 1300 Campo Sano, Coral Gables, FL 33146 (
Natasha Borges Sugiyama is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 (
Brian Wampler is Professor of Political Science, Boise State University. Department of Political Science, 1910 University Dr, Boise, ID, 83725 (
Hide All
The authors would like to thank John Ishiyama, the APSR Editorial Board, and four anonymous reviewers for their suggestions. Special thanks go to Merike Blofield, Laura Gómez-Mera, Evelyne Huber, Wendy Hunter, James W. McGuire, Jennifer Pribble, and Kurt Weyland for their valuable comments. Thanks also go to seminar participants at the University of Miami, Clemson University, Utah State University, and Arizona State University. Previous versions of this article were presented at annual meetings of The American Political Science Association, the Mid-West Political Science Association, the Southern Political Science Association, and the Latin American Studies Association; we thank our discussants and audience for their insightful questions. Claire Adida deserves special recognition in this regard. Thank you to Boise State University's School of Public Service, which provided funding to support this research.
Hide All
Rebecca Abers , and Margaret Keck . 2013. Practical Authority. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barry Ames . 2001. The Deadlock of Democracy in Brazil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

A. Diaz-Cayeros , F. Estevez , and B. Magaloni 2016. The Political Logic of Poverty Relief: Electoral Strategies and Social Policy in Mexico. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ed Diener , Richard Lucas , Ulrich Schimmack , and John Helliwell . 2009. Well-Being for Public Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ariel Fiszbein , and Norbert Schady . 2009. Conditional Cash Transfers. Washington: World Bank.

Frances Hagopian . 1996. Traditional Politics and Regime Change in Brazil. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Joseph Hilbe . 2007. Negative Binomial Regression, 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Evelyne Huber , and John Stephens . 2012. Democracy and the Left. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Atul Kohli . 2004. State-directed Development. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Stephen Kosack . 2012. The Education of Nations: How the Political Organization of the Poor, not Democracy, led Governments to Invest in Mass Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

James McGuire . 2010. Wealth, Health, and Democracy in East Asia and Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Martha Nussbaum . 2011. Creating capabilities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Adam Przeworski , Michael Alvarez , Jose Cheibub , and Fernando Limongi . 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Material Well Being in the World. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Adam Przeworski , Susan Stokes , and Bernard Manin , eds. 1999. Democracy, Accountability, and Representation Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

David J. Samuels 2003. Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Richard Sandbrook , Marc Edelman , Patrick Heller , and Judith Teichman 2007. Social Democracy in the Global Periphery. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sidney Tarrow . 1998. Power in Movement. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Deborah Yashar . 2005. Contesting Citizenship in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Jinjun Xue . 2012. Growth with Inequality. Singapore: World Scientific Press.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Touchton supplementary material

 Word (41 KB)
41 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 37
Total number of PDF views: 508 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 1374 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 24th February 2017 - 17th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.