Conditional Cash Transfers, Political Participation, and Government Accountability in Latin America

June 17, 2020
Conditional cash transfers (CCTs)—government antipoverty programs that send cash directly to poor families in exchange for fulfilling certain requirements, such as attendance at school, nutrition workshops, and health checkups—are the main form of targeted social assistance in Latin America. Although important variation exists in CCT programs across Latin American countries, they generally use objective, needs-based criteria to select beneficiaries and (whenever possible) require an adult female to be the head program participant (Fiszbein and Schady 2009; Díaz-Cayeros and Magaloni 2009; Fried 2012; Lindert, Skoufias, and Shapiro 2006).
Recently, researchers have examined the consequences of CCTs for political participation. Most of this research only considers voter turnout, so it remains unclear whether CCTs affect other forms of political activity. Moreover, we do not know whether the cash transfers or the conditionalities— the requirements that beneficiaries must meet in order to continue participating in the program—are responsible for any resulting program effects. Do CCTs lead to increased participation in multiple political activities in Latin America? If CCTs contribute to broad political participation, how do CCTs increase participation in a wide variety of political activities?
New Research
In my new paper in LARR, I argue that CCTs lead to an increase in politically relevant skills among beneficiaries, which in turn lowers their costs of political participation and facilitates more involvement in multiple political activities.  More specifically, CCT conditionalities provide regular opportunities for beneficiaries to develop and maintain civic skills, because the beneficiaries must navigate multiple government agencies, communicate with program officials and fellow participants, and resolve any potential challenges related to fulfilling the conditionalities.  CCT beneficiaries respond to the reduced costs by choosing to participate more in several forms of political activity, particularly more demanding political activities. 
Using original and existing survey data from several Latin American countries, I find that CCTs increase multiple civic skills, including communication and organizational skills, and they boost participation in a large number of political activities.  Moreover, I find that the program conditionalities play a key role in driving increased civic skills and political participation.  Interestingly, the conditionalities lead to more civic skills and political participation for female and male beneficiaries, even though the female beneficiaries (as the head program participants) are ultimately responsible for meeting the program requirements. This evidence suggests that male beneficiaries are helping to fulfill the conditionalities and, in the process, are gaining opportunities to develop and use key civic skills.  
CCT Removal, Government Accountability, and Corruption
Recent policy efforts threaten the continuation of CCT programs in Latin America. The Mexican government, a pioneer in the design and evaluation of CCTs, decided to eliminate its CCT program earlier this year (Kidd 2019; Russell 2019). Just as other Latin American countries emulated the Mexican CCT policy model in the past, some may now follow Mexico’s lead once again and decide to eliminate the program. 
According to the findings from my paper, the elimination of CCTs has important consequences for government accountability and corruption in Latin America. Not only are CCTs generally free from political manipulation, but they boost civic skills and equip poor citizens to hold government officials accountable. Rather than encourage corruption, the evidence suggests that CCTs prepare poor citizens to monitor and combat corruption. If governments eliminate CCTs in Latin America, then they disrupt a key bottom-up mechanism for government accountability in the region.  
Díaz-Cayeros, Alberto, and Beatriz Magaloni. 2009. “Aiding Latin America’s Poor.” Journal of Democracy 20 (4): 36–49. DOI:
Fiszbein, Ariel, and Norbert Schady. 2009. Conditional Cash Transfers: Reducing Present and Future Poverty. Washington, DC: World Bank. DOI:
Fried, Brian J. 2012. “Distributive Politics and Conditional Cash Transfers: The Case of Brazil’s Bolsa Família.” World Development 40 (5): 1042–1053. DOI:
Kidd, Stephen. 2019. “The demise of Mexico’s Prospera programme; a tragedy foretold.” Development Pathways Blog.
Lindert, Kathy, Emmanuel Skoufias, and Joseph Shapiro. 2006. Redistributing Income to the Poor and the Rich: Public Transfers in Latin America and the Caribbean. Social Protection Discussion Paper no. 605. Washington, DC: World Bank. SP-Discussion-papers/Safety-Nets-DP/0605.pdf
Russell, Benjamin. 2019. “What AMLO’s Anti-Poverty Overhaul Says About His Government.” Americas Quarterly.



LARR article can be found here

How to Cite: Schober, G. S. (2019). Conditional Cash Transfers, Resources, and Political Participation in Latin America. Latin American Research Review, 54(3), 591–607. DOI:


About Author(s)

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Gregory Schober
Dr. Schober's research interests include health policy, political and civic behavior, and global health. His research agenda currently focuses on four main areas: (1) the consequences of health policy for behavior and health; (2) governance and health in developing countries; (3) health disparities among patients with diabetes in the U.S.-Mexico border region; and (4) poverty, food assistance, and health