Bridging the Participation Gap with Government-sponsored Neighborhood Development Programs: Can Civic Skills Be Taught?

Katsuo A. Nishikawa


I argue that innovative development programs that require citizen participation in the production of public goods can have unexpected bene-fits for individuals’ dispositions toward democracy. In particular, I explore the effect of taking part in state-sponsored neighborhood development programs – direct-democracy type programs that require individuals to organize within their community as a precondition for state help – on participant dispositions toward democracy and willingness to take part in politics. To test this hypothesis, I use original survey data collected in the Mexican state of Baja California. To measure the effect of participation in neighborhood development programs, I conduct a quasi experiment via propensity score matching. I find robust evidence suggesting that participating in such programs correlates with higher levels of political participation, a better sense of community, more positive retrospective evaluations of the economy (according to both pocketbook and sociotropic measures), and overall higher support for the government.

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