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The Ambiguous Effects of Democracy on Bureaucratic Quality

  • Agnes Cornell
  • David Andersen
Publishing year: 2018-05
Language: English
Pages: 1-47
Publication/Series: STANCE Working Papers Series
Volume: 2018
Issue: 3
Document type: Working paper
Publisher: Lund University

Abstract english

Recent studies find that higher degrees of democracy are related to higher levels of bureaucratic quality. However, they only offer limited explanations for this pattern based on a unidimensional understanding of democracy. We argue that future uncertainties as perceived by the incumbent, the opposition, and voters are important for why bureaucratic reform takes place. Therefore, we expect no uniform effects of democracy but that the effect depends on the socioeconomic status of the median voter. Empirically, we examine the separate effects of three dimensions of democracy – competitive elections, legislative constraints on the executive, and suffrage. Based on a global sample of countries from 1790 to 2016 that adds historical depth and variation on bureaucratic quality and the dimensions of democracy, the results show that competitive elections and legislative constraints are connected with higher levels of bureaucratic quality. However, the third dimension of suffrage is not related to bureaucratic quality. Rather, the positive effects of competitive elections and legislative constraints seem to decrease in times of large suffrage extensions.


  • Political Science
  • Democracy
  • bureaucarcy
  • Bureaucratic quality


E-mail: agnes [dot] cornell [at] svet [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer

Department of Political Science



Agnes Cornell is currently assistant professor at Lund university. Assistant Professor at Aarhus University 2014–2018. Ph.D. in 2013 from University of Gothenburg on a dissertation on democracy aid and democratization.

Current projects

Department of Political Science
Lund University
Visiting address: Paradisgatan 5H (House: Eden)
Postal address: Box 52, SE-221 00 LUND
Telephone: +46 46-222 89 52

Faculty of Social Sciences