Doctoral Dissertation Research in Political Science: Poverty Alleviation in Developing Nations


Robert Shapiro
Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government
Mark Schneider
Visiting Assistant Professor in Political Studies

Poverty reduction is one of the central challenges for development in new democracies. Many of these democracies operate in a context of weak institutions, where policy implementation is subject to the discretion of politicians, This proposal investigates the strategies used to target private benefits and how voters' access to benefits affects their behavior. This project studies the conditions under which local politicians pursue partisan targeting strategies and when voters can circumvent these strategies.

This project consists of three components that combine quantitative and qualitative methods, including a dataset that compiles information on the number of families identified as poor by the government, the number of families issued benefits, the partisan composition of local governments and the state assembly units. These data are used to assess whether the number of households given access to anti-poverty programs across local government units is determined by political characteristics. The second component is a survey of voters and local politicians. These data are used to test individual-level hypotheses on partisan targeting bias, voter-intermediary strategies used to access benefits, and the ability of politicians to monitor votes across partisan contexts. Finally, focus group will be conducted to illuminate mechanisms found in the quantitative results. This research aims to provide a micro-level understanding of party-voter linkages and partisan strategies of clientelistic distribution that is applicable to a diverse range of democratic settings in the developing world.

The goal of this project is to identify the causes and consequences of party capture of anti-poverty programs, a problem that threatens efforts to alleviate poverty in many developing democracies. In addition to improving scholarly understanding of clientelistic strategies in a democratic context, the results will also be useful to the development and policy communities who are focused on improving the efficiency of these programs. Ultimately, the core ambition of this research is to provide analyses that can contribute to the fight against local corruption: a problem that has devastating effects on the lives of the poor.