Ross, Ashley Dyan (2011-10). A Virtuous Cycle: Tracing Democratic Quality through Equality. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • This dissertation asks the question: How do democracies improve in quality? Building on previous scholarship, the author offers a theoretical framework that traces democratic quality through equality of outcomes. The quality of democracy may be conceptualized as a virtuous cycle where the procedural aspects of democracy motivate politicians to expand equality. This broadening of substantive opportunities outcomes, in turn, deepens democracy by developing individual-level political participation. The theoretical framework is applied to the context of public services with the expectation that quality democracies with high government capacity more broadly distribute basic public services and that this pattern of provision cultivates political participation. The first empirical analysis tests if the quality of democracy and government capacity are associated with reduced service inequalities for a sample of 75 countries. It is found that while equalities of education and sanitation services are significantly related to democratic quality, healthcare is not, nor is government capacity shown to play a significant role. To further explore this, the Mexican states are analyzed for the years 2000 to 2004; the results show that capacity in terms of tax collection efforts is associated with lower inequalities in education services in states with high electoral competition. The second empirical analysis turns to the local level of government - where services are delivered. Using original data from interviews and government records of four Mexican municipalities, the author examines the aspects of democracy and government capacity that are correlated with lower inequalities of public services. The findings highlight that intense electoral competition and institutionalized channels of citizen input as well as capacity in terms of sound collection of municipal taxes and innovations in municipal funding are characteristics of governments with broader distribution of basic public services. The third empirical analysis tests if public services are related to individual-level political participation. Employing survey data from Latin America and Africa, the author finds that "good" public service evaluations are associated with greater likelihoods of voting in high quality democracies - those with intense electoral competition - but limited government capacity. This offers evidence that in a developing context, public services enable political participation.

publication date

  • August 2010