Democracy and Light: Electoral Accountability and the Provision of Public Goods
Brian Min
April 2008


Do democracies provide more public goods than autocracies? Clear answers to this question have been hampered by inconsistent, unreliable, or missing data. To address the shortcomings of self-reported government data, I propose a novel method to generate unbiased estimates of the provision of electrical infrastructure across the entire globe using satellite imagery of nighttime lights. After demonstrating the validity of my measure, I show that democratization is associated with a substantial decrease in unelectrified populations, even after controlling for differences in per capita income, population density, and other factors. Complementing the cross-national results, I use a difference-in-differences estimator applied to the former Soviet Bloc to show that democratization has positive effects on electrification over time. The results affirm the power of electoral incentives in inducing democratic leaders to provide higher levels of public goods than in autocracies where leaders do not need to win elections.

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