Promoting Democracy and Reaping Rewards?

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Many aid donors from the developed world have engaged in democracy promotion, especially following the end of the Cold War. One strand of this effort—democracy aid—involves assistance to governments, political parties, and other nongovernmental groups and organizations. Like more general foreign assistance, democracy aid is substantially driven by donor interests. While ideational and humanitarian factors matter, donors seek political and economic benefits from their democracy aid, just as they do for their foreign aid. Does democracy aid deliver and provide those benefits? Building on studies of foreign and democracy aid that find significant roles for donor interests in allocation decisions, this article examines US democracy aid allocations to assess the impact of democracy assistance on donor political and economic interests in recipient countries. We argue that, because of its nature, democracy aid helps to cultivate political friends for and provide economic benefits to the US. We test our argument against US democracy assistance to the developing world from 1975 to 2013, controlling for other factors relevant to political, economic, and security relationships and find evidence to support our argument. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of these findings for democracy promotion policies.