Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


PERDEM Report Summary

Project ID: 339571
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Sweden

Periodic Report Summary 2 - PERDEM (The Peformance of Democracies)

The central aim of the PERDEM project is to explain the variation in performance between democratic countries. A number of scholars address this issue from different angles. Most research is still work in progress, but some results have already come about and they will briefly be presented in the following.

Marina Nistotskaya’s research focuses on state building, democracy and human well-being. Although it is well known that Western countries had strong states before they democratized, whereas most developing countries do not, we know little about the implications of this for human wellbeing. The question Nistotskaya asks is how democratization at different levels of state capacity affects developmental outcome. She has developed a novel theoretical argument, which argues for a “State first – then democracy” sequence of institution building and finds strong support for this argument in both a quantitative test, involving 78 democracies, and in a qualitative work, which compares developmental trajectories of Sweden and Ireland, which democratized at about the same time, but at a differing levels of state capacity.

Nicholas Charron’s work has focused on two primary subjects. First, he has been looking at the institutional effects of formal (democratic) and informal (corruption) institutions on a country’s level of inter-generational social mobility. Charron finds that democracy alone explains very little cross-country variation in rates of social mobility, whereas corruption is found to be a highly relevant factor, associated with lower rates of mobility on average. Second, he has researched the relationship between institutions, education and social trust. While a key driver of social trust in some places, education is non-correlated with trust where political institutions are perceived as favoring some over others and are perceived to be corrupted.

Georgios Xezonakis’ research addresses questions pertaining to ‘how to make democracy work’. One of the more interesting puzzles in the literature is that elections are indeed poor instruments through which democracies can combat corruption. Corrupt politicians at all levels of government are not always punished at the polls and usually vote loses are minimal. His findings in the area, using observational and experimental data, suggest that economic conditions and strong psychological attachments to parties are the main culprit. That is, citizens are ready to overlook corrupt activity if the economy is doing well, while the perceptual screen of partisanship makes it often harder for citizens to attribute responsibility and sanction corruption effectively. More importantly though, his research shows that in this setting, fine tuning electoral institutions such as the electoral system is not likely to lead to any additional gains in combating corruption.

Frida Boräng has studied public service provisions. Part of this research has focused on electricity provision, showing the interplay between democratic institutions and corruption control in promoting electricity provision. Democracy is shown to have a positive effect, but only in relatively non-corrupt contexts.

Boräng has also looked at attitudes and expectations of citizens in democratic states and what affects the support for democracy. Again, high levels of Quality of Government, i.e. low corruption are crucial and in particular so in young democracies.

Amy Alexander's research focuses on the role of gender equality in democracies’ achievements of quality of government. Through this research she is developing a novel theoretical approach to establish why gender equality is a historical and contemporary driver of democratic performance. Her research is also amassing data to test the theory across the globe, overtime, particular regions and particular time periods. In addition, the project is building a network of scholars interested in the historical drivers of gender equality across the globe and the implications of gender equality for the development and strengthening of democracy.

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