Skip to main content

The Transforming Power of Democracy: Regime Type and the Distribution of Electricity


Theory on democracy and its consequences turns on how democracy influences behavior among politicians and the citizenry. Ultimately, the literature seeks to determine who benefits under democratic rules. This is our concern, posed in a context that allows us to address a classic question: does democracy favor large but diffuse segments of society over small but concentrated interests? We employ sectoral electricity consumption data for a panel of 733 country-years to examine democracy's impact on the distribution of electricity across three sectors that represent distinct political interests: industry, agriculture, and residential consumers. We find that in poorer countries democratization produces significant increases in the residential share of electricity relative to industry, suggesting sectors with less per capita financial clout, but a stronger voice in elections benefit under democracy. Unlike the large literatures on democracy's impact on the amounts of publicly provided goods, our results are among the first on the distribution of those goods.

Corresponding author
David S. Brown is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, UCB 333, Boulder, CO 80309-0333 (
Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak is Assistant Professor of Economics, Yale School of Management, Yale University, 135 Prospect Street, Box 208200, New Haven, CT 06520-8200 (
Hide All
Acemoglu, D., Robinson, J., et al. 2002. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review 91: 1369–401.
Achen, C. H. 2002. “Toward a New Political Methodology: Microfoundations and ART.” Annual Review of Political Science. 5: 423–50.
Alesina, A. and Rodrik, D.. 1994. “Distributive Politics and Economic Growth.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 109 (2): 465–90.
Ames, B. 1987. Political Survival: Politicians and Public Policy in Latin America. Berkeley:University of California Press.
Audinet, P., and Verneyre, F.. 2002. Electricity in India: Providing Power for the Millions. Paris: International Energy Agency.
Barnes, D. F., and Halpern, J.. 2000. “The Role of Energy Subsidies.” In Energy Services for the World's Poor, ed. World Bank. Washington, DC: World Bank, 60–8.
Baum, M. A., and Lake, D. A.. 2003. “The Political Economy of Growth: Democracy and Human Capital.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (2): 333–47.
Becker, G. S. 1983. “A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 98 (3): 371400.
Bergara, M., Henisz, W. J., et al. 1997. “Political Institutions and Electric Uitlity Investment: A Cross-Nation Analysis.” Working Paper Series of the Program on Workable Energy Regulation. Berkeley, CA.
Betancourt, R., and Gleason, S.. 2000. “The Allocation of Publicly-Provided Goods to Rural Households in India: On Some Consequences of Caste, Religion and Democracy.” World Development 28 (12): 2169–82.
Branston, J. R., Sugden, R., et al. 2006. “Generating Participation and Democracy: An Illustration from Electricity Reform in Mexico.” International Review of Applied Economics 20 (1): 4768.
Brown, D. S. 1999. “Reading, Writing, and Regime Type.” Political Research Quarterly 52 (4): 681707.
Brown, D. S., and Hunter, W. A.. 1999. “Democracy and Social Spending in Latin America, 1980–1992.American Political Science Review 93 (4): 779–90.
Bueno de Mesquita, B., Morrow, J. D., et al. 2001. “Political Competition and Economic Growth.” Journal of Democracy 12 (1): 5872.
Bueno de Mesquita, B., Morrow, J. D., et al. 2002. “Political Institutions, Policy Choice and the Survival of Leaders.” British Journal of Political Science 32: 559–90.
Bueno de Mesquita, B., Smith, A., et al. 2003. The Logic of Political Survival. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
de Schweinitz, K. 1964. Industrialization and Democracy. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
De Soto, H. 2000. The Mystery of Capital. New York: Basic Books.
Dornbusch, R., and Edwards, S.. 1991. The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Dubash, N. K., and Rajan, S. C.. 2002. “India: Electricity Reform under Political Constraints.” Power Politics: Equity and Environment in Electricity Reform. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 23.
Foster, A., and Rosenzweig, M.. 2001. “Democratization, Decentralization and the Distribution of Local Public Goods in a Poor Rural Economy.” Working Paper.
Galenson, W. 1959. Labor and Economic Development. New York: Wiley.
Grossman, G., and Helpman, E.. 2001. Special Interest Politics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Haggard, S. 1990. Pathways from the Periphery: The Politics of Growth in the Newly Industrializing Countries. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Henisz, W., and Zelner, B.. 2006. “Interest Grops, Veto Points and Electricity Infrastructure Deployment.” International Organization 60 (1): 263–86.
Huntington, S. P. 1968. Political Order in Changing Societies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
International Energy Agency. 2000. “Energy Statistics of Non-OECD Countries 1997–1998.” (January 2001).
International Energy Agency. 2002.World Energy Outlook. Paris: International Energy Agency.
Jamasb, T. 2002. Reform and Regulation of the Electricity Sectors in Developing Countries. Cambridge: The Cambridge-MIT Institute.
John, K. 2003. “Democracy, Accountability, and International Health.” The Lancet (9386): 826.
Lake, D. A., and Baum, M. A., et al. 2001. “The Invisible Hand of Democracy: Political Control and the Provision of Public Services.” Comparative Political Studies 34 (6): 587621.
Leftwich, A. 2002. “Democracy and Development.” New Political Economy 7 (2): 269–81.
Lindseth, O. A. 2002. Russia Energy Survey. Paris: International Energy Agency.
Lipscomb, M., Mobarak, A. M., and Barham, T.. 2008. “Development Effects of Electricity: Evidence from the Geologic Placement of Hydropower Plants in Brazil.” Manuscript, Yale University.
Maddala, G. S. 1983. Limited Dependent and Qualitative Variables in Econometrics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Marshall, M. G. 2003. “Polity IV Project: Political Regime Characteristics and Transitions, 1800–2002.” (June 25, 2004).
McGillivray, F. 2004. Privileging Industry: The Comparative Politics of Trade and Industrial Policy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
McKinnish, T. 2008. “Panel Data Models and Transitory Fluctuations in the Explanatory Variable.” In Advances in Econometrics. vol. 21, eds. Millimet, D. L., Smith, J. A., and Vytlacil, E. J.. Amsterdam: JAI.
Mobarak, A. M. 2005. “Democracy, Volatility and Development.” Review of Economics and Statistics 87 (2): 348–61.
Murillo, M. V. 2001. Conviction Versus Necessity: Public Utility Privatization in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. New Haven, CT: Yale Center for International and Area Studies.
Murillo, M. V., and Martínez-Gallardo, C.. 2007. “Political Competition and Policy Adoption: Market Reforms in Latin American Public Utilities.” American Journal of Political Science 51 (1): 120–39.
Nellis, J. 2003. Privatization in Latin America. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.
Olson, M. 1993. “Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development.” American Political Science Review 87 (3): 567–76.
Olukoju, A. 2004. “‘Never Expect Power Always’: Electricity Consumers' Response to Monopoly, Corruption and Inefficient Services in Nigeria.” African Affairs 103: 5171.
Pastor, M. Jr and Sung, J. H.. 1995. “Private Investment and Democracy in the Developing World.” Journal of Economic Issues 29 (1): 223.
Peltzman, S. 1976. “Toward a More General Theory of Regulation.” Journal of Law and Economics 19 (2): 211–40.
Price, C. W. 2000. “Better Energy Services, Better Energy Sectors—and Links to the Poor.” Energy Services for the World's Poor. Washington, DC: World Bank.
Przeworski, A. 1990. The State and the Economy under Capitalism. London: Harwood Academic.
Przeworski, A., Alvarez, M. M., et al. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950–1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Remmer, K. L. 1990. “Democracy and Economic Crisis: the Latin American Experience.” World Politics April (3): 315–35.
Rodrik, D. 1999. “Democracies Pay Higher Wages.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 114 (3): 707–38.
Singell, L. Jr.Lillydahl, J., and Singell, L. Sr. 1996. “Will Changing Times Change the Allocation of Faculty Time?Journal of Human Resources 31 (2): 429–49.
Stigler, G. J. 1971. “The Theory of Economic Regulation.” Bell Journal of Economics and Management Science 2 (1): 321.
Turkson, J., and Wohlgemuth, N.. 2000. “Power Sector Reform and Distributed Generation in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Energy Policy 29: 135–45.
U.S. Department of Energy. 2004. “Country Analysis Briefs: Saudi Arabia.” (June 25, 2004).
Williams, J. H., and Ghanadan, R.. 2006. “Electricity Reform in Developing and Transition Countries: A Reappraisal.” Energy 31: 815–44.
Wintrobe, R. 1998. The Political Economy of Dictatorship. New York: Cambridge University Press.
World Bank. 1999. Meeting India's Energy Needs (1998–1999): A Country Sector Review. Washington, DC: World Bank.
World Bank. 2004. Word Development Report. Washington, DC: World Bank.
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? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 5
Total number of PDF views: 198 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 522 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 26th September 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.