Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name



Political Science

First Advisor

Kristin T. O'Donovan


Food security is partially determined by politics. This dissertation examines three political determinants of food security: democracy, decentralization, and federalism. Each one is operationalized and tested quantitatively against food security using a dataset of all countries from 1990 to 2011, although each model employs a different subset of the dataset. Democracy is divided along two dimensions: political rights and civil liberties. Both are significant positive predictors of food security. Increases in civil liberties are more consistently and strongly associated with food security than increases in political rights.

Decentralization is assessed along three dimensions: fiscal, administrative, and political. Fiscal and administrative decentralization, when measured as factor scores, were significantly associated with higher food security. In fact, the strongest predictor of food security in any model (even compared to economic and geographic factors) was fiscal decentralization, when measured as a factor score. However, direct measures of fiscal and administrative decentralization were not significantly associated with food security. Finally, federalism has a consistently strong and negative effect when significant, but it is not significant in all models.

This dissertation contributes to the burgeoning literature on democracy and social welfare, particularly because multiple imputation was used to correct for sample bias and the effects remained significant and positive. In addition, it provides a nuanced view of the characteristics of democracy that produce better social welfare. It contributes to the literature on decentralization and social welfare, a subject often viewed through the lens of qualitative case studies, by providing a cross-national quantitative study of the subject. Finally, it contributes to the literature on federalism by testing theories about the difficulties of redistribution under federalism. Avenues of future research are suggested.