Document Type


Publication Date

August 2015

Publication Title

University of Gothenburg, Varieties of Democracy Institute: Working Paper No. 9


Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This study reconciles competing positions in the debate over whether democracy improves human development. We argue that electoral competition incentivizes politicians to provide public goods and services, and these, in turn, save lives. Hence, the electoral aspect of democracy should have a substantial impact on human development while other aspects, e.g. related to citizen empowerment or civil liberties, should be less consequential. Extant measures of democracy do not allow for the disambiguation of various components of democracy, which may help to account for the mixed results reported by various studies (contrast Ross 2006 and Gerring et al. 2012). We draw on the new Varieties of Democracy dataset, which provides a highly differentiated set of democracy indicators, and a new collection of mortality data compiled by the Gapminder project. With these tools, we are able to conduct panel analyses that include most (semi- ) sovereign countries from 1900 to the present – a much more extensive sample than has ever been mustered for this particular research question. We find that composite indices such as Polity have a tenuous relationship to human development, while indices focused on the electoral component of democracy yield a highly robust relationship.


This article was originally published in the University of Gothenburg, Varieties of Democracy Institute: Working Paper No. 9, 2015. Copyright © 2015 University of Gothenburg, V-Dem Institute. Permission to post article here was granted by the publisher.