Democracy and the Environment: The Visibility Factor

35 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2010

See all articles by Andrea Duwel

Andrea Duwel

University of California, Davis

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Date Written: March 11, 2010


There are compelling theoretical arguments as to why democracy should have a positive effect on environmental performance, yet the empirical findings are mixed. These mixed results are likely in part due to the fact that the mechanism linking democracy to the environment varies based on how the characteristics of specific environmental indicators relate back to the political process. I develop a theory that explains the relationship between democracy and the environment as a function of how visible the areas of environmental policy and performance are to the public. Using cross-sectional analysis and data from the Environmental Performance Index, I show that the provision of highly visible environmental public goods that affect human health is primarily a function of a country’s level of economic development, whereas the provision of less visible environmental public goods that affect ecosystem vitality is a function of both the levels of economic development and democracy. The finding that the effect of democracy differs across different areas of environmental policy suggests that the global spread of democracy will lead to environmental improvements in some, but not all areas.

Keywords: democracy, environment, environmental public goods

Suggested Citation

Duwel, Andrea, Democracy and the Environment: The Visibility Factor (March 11, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Andrea Duwel (Contact Author)

University of California, Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

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