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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 (
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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.
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