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Pitfalls of power to the people: Decentralization, local government performance, and system support in Bolivia

Abstract

Across the developing world, many governments have implemented political reforms—heavily promoted by international donors—designed to transfer greater power to subnational levels of government and to provide a more substantial policymaking and oversight role to citizens. Although economic analyses have frequently argued that such decentralization programs improve the efficiency of public expenditures, far less is known about their political impact. Based on an analysis of two large national public-opinion surveys from Bolivia, a country that has recently implemented one of the most comprehensive decentralization reforms yet attempted in Latin America, we analyze the role decentralized local institutions are playing in shaping citizen attitudes toward their political system. Our findings support the contention that decentralization can bolster citizen levels of system support at the national level. Equally important, however, we also demonstrate that the renewed emphasis on local government can have the opposite effect of producingmore negative views of the political system when the performance of local institutions falters.

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Authors

Additional information

Jonathan T. Hiskey is assistant professor of political science at the Univeristy of California, Riverside. His most recent research focuses on subnational processes of political and economic development taking place across Latin America.

Mitchell A. Seligson is Daniel H. Wallace Professor of Political Science, research professor of international studies, and professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. His research centers on surveys of democratic values and behaviors in Latin America.

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Hiskey, J.T., Seligson, M.A. Pitfalls of power to the people: Decentralization, local government performance, and system support in Bolivia. St Comp Int Dev 37, 64–88 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686272

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Keywords

  • Local Government
  • System Support
  • Political System
  • Comparative International Development
  • Municipal Government