Does democracy promotion work?  This study analyzed the impact of U.S. Agency for International Development democracy assistance on democracy building world-wide between 1990 and 2003.  Using the most common scholarly measures of democracy Freedom House and Polity IV), we find that USAID Democracy and Governance obligations have a significant positive impact on democracy, while all other assistance variables are statistically insignificant.  This effect occurs over and above the "normal" pattern of democratization dynamics of the country, and occurs controlling for a host of time-varying and country-level invariant economic, social and political attributes.  The data were analyzed using hierarchical growth models, a statistical technique that allowed us to separate the underlying trend in democratization in each country from the effects of democracy assistance.

How large is this effect?  Ten million additional USAID dollars would produce — by itself — about a five-fold increase in the amount of democratic change that the average country would be expected to achieve, ceteris paribus, in any given year, based on the Freedom House measure of democracy.  At the same time, these potential impacts must be viewed in the context of the actual current outlays for democracy assistance. The average eligible country received only $2.07 million (in 1995 dollars) per year during the time period, and this figure reached only $3.66 million in 2003.

The project resulted from a competitive call for applications initiated by the Association Liaison Office for University Cooperation in Development (ALO) in 2004 and it was sponsored by US Agency for International Development (USAID). The Principal Investigators were Steven E. Finkel, Professor and Daniel Wallace Chair in Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh, Aníbal Pérez-Liñán, Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh, and Mitchell A. Seligson, Centennial Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University.  Three renowned democracy scholars, Michael Bratton of Michigan State University, Michael Coppedge of the University of Notre Dame, and Pamela Paxton of the Ohio State University, served as readers and reviewers for the project.

For more information, downloadable versions of the final report and Powerpoint presentation, and (when available) the study data sets, please see