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Elizabeth Kaknes

Elizabeth Kaknes is a Weiser Emerging Democracies Postdoctoral Fellow for the 2016-17 academic year. Her research focuses on the political and social effects of development policy in middle-income countries. She is interested broadly in democratic consolidation and development, social policy, Latin American politics, and survey methodology.

Her core research project entitled, “Politics, Poverty, and Policy in Brazil,” strives to understand how universalistic social programs help to construct robust party systems and citizenry in developing democracies. It employs original field surveys to understand the ways in which redistributive social policy affects recipients’ political attitudes in Brazil, and subsequently assesses the ways in which social policy can contribute to the process of democratic consolidation in middle-income countries. Through an in-depth examination of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program (a means-tested anti-poverty program that transfers monthly cash stipends to beneficiaries) it highlights the capacity of social policy to contribute to democratic consolidation even in extreme instances of longstanding institutional weakness, as is historically the case in Brazil. Through a multipartite examination of behavioral effects to the policy’s target population, it strives to understand the intermediary effects of policy on mass opinion. These constituent foci highlight key areas of scholarly debate regarding the political profile of a vibrant polity: (1) the electoral connection, (2) social class and race, and (3) democratic confidence and efficacy.

During her association with the Weiser Center, Kaknes will focus on a related set of projects that advance her ongoing inquiry into the political ramifications of development policies. Specifically, these papers assess the role of various anti-poverty, health, and education programs in conditioning voter behavior, public goods usage, and attitudes of social mobility in Brazil, Ecuador, and Mexico. She completed her Ph.D. in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and has a B.A. in international affairs and Spanish from the University of Mary Washington.


  • Ph.D., Foreign Affairs, University of Virginia, 2016
  • B.A., International Affairs and Spanish, University of Mary Washington, 2007

Awards and Honors 

  • Fundação de Pesquisa do Estado de Rio de Janeiro/Rio de Janeiro State Research Foundation (FAPERJ), Reverse-Doctoral Fellowship (2014-15)
  • David L. Boren Fellowship, National Security Education Program (2013-14)
  • Quantitative Collaborative Graduate Fellow (2010-12)
  • Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, South Atlantic Studies Fellow (2013)
  • Bankard Fund for Political Economy Dissertation Fellowship (2014-15)
  • Buckner W. Clay Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2013-14)


Following her WCED Fellowship year, Professor Kaknes accepted a position as assistant professor of political science at Marist College.