Awakening leviathan: The effect of democracy on state capacity

Erik H. Wang, Yiqing Xu

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Recent debates over the relative importance of democracy and state capacity for human development have led to the prevailing view that a strong state must be built before the introduction of democracy. Our research challenges this “sequencing approach” in international development. Using a global panel of countries over 50 years, we document that democracy has a substantial, positive causal effect on state capacity with identification strategies that adjust for pre-treatment dynamics. The state-enhancing effect of democracy is robust to alternative measures of key variables, a large set of time-varying confounders and an instrumental variable design that leverages variation in regional democratic diffusions. Subsequent analysis suggests contestation, rather than participation, as a potential causal mechanism. Our findings contribute to the burgeoning literature on sources of state capacity in the developing world and yield practical implications for democracy assistance.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    JournalResearch and Politics
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


    • Causal inference
    • Democracy
    • Democratic diffusion
    • Development
    • Panel data
    • State capacity

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Public Administration
    • Political Science and International Relations


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