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Title page for ETD etd-03232011-122417

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Montalvo, Jorge Daniel
Author's Email Address d.montalvo@vanderbilt.edu, daniel.montalvo@gmail.com
URN etd-03232011-122417
Title Decentralization and participatory democracy in Latin America: the political survival of local elites
Degree PhD
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Jonathan Hiskey Committee Co-Chair
Mitchell Seligson Committee Co-Chair
Elizabeth Zechmeister Committee Member
Thomas Smith Committee Member
  • local elites
  • participatory democracy
  • decentralization
  • political survival
  • Latin America
Date of Defense 2011-02-23
Availability unrestricted
This dissertation develops and tests a theory of political survival of local elites in order to explain the uneven effects of decentralization on Latin American and Caribbean participatory democracies. This theory rests on the key proposition that the success or failure of decentralization is a function of the choices made by local political elites regarding decentralization and their own political survival strategies, and the corresponding response made by citizens, who as principals find themselves newly empowered but also more vulnerable to agency loss. In this study, I address three major questions: (a) What factors explain different degrees of citizen support for decentralization? (b) What are the general effects of state decentralization on participatory democracies? (c) Why can two remarkably similar decentralization policies produce extremely different political outcomes?

To answer these questions, I query the 2008 AmericasBarometer data set created by the Latin American Public Opinion Project that includes responses from 37,035 interviews in 22 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. I also study public opinion data from 18,583 face-to-face interviews carried out between 2003 and 2008 in 46 Argentinean municipalities by the Programa de Auditoría Ciudadana. Finally, I make use of results from four focus groups and 24 semi-structured interviews with local elites carried out in two Argentinean municipalities. Results from these various methodological approaches show that: (a) Citizens will support decentralization after they have fulfilled their basic needs in terms of health wealth and education (b) As decentralization increases, local elites will discourage citizen participation in institutions that can credibly threat their permanence in power, (i.e. political parties), with greater rigor. Consequently, as decentralization increases, citizens will engage in mobilized modes of participation, (i.e. public protests) (c) Decentralization policies will produce participatory democracies in territories where citizens instead of local authorities exert the most significant pressures for the implementation and functioning of local institutions. In general, these findings highlight the need to incorporate local contextual elements into our assessments of when, where, and how to implement decentralization reforms.

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