Abby Córdova

abco232's picture
  • Associate Professor
  • Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies
  • Political Science
1633 Patterson Office Tower
(859) 257-3136
Short Bio

I am an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kentucky, and the 2016-17 Central American Visiting Scholar of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University. In the spring and fall semesters of 2019, I have held an academic appointment at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame as a visiting scholar. My research has been recognized with the 2020 Southern Political Science Association's Marian Irish Award and the 2017 Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA)'s Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for best paper on Women and Politics.

My field of specialization is comparative politics, with a focus on public opinion and political behavior in Latin America.

Broadly defined, my research program examines the consequences of inequality and marginalization for the quality of democracy. More specifically, my research agenda integrates topics related to economic inequality, gender inequality, crime and violence, and international migration. Importantly, my research seeks to identify and evaluate the effectiveness of public policies that can improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged citizens and in this way advance democratic consolidation in the developing world. My research program examines three main questions: 1) How do contexts characterized by economic marginalization and violence affect disadvantaged citizens’ political attitudes and participation in electoral and non-electoral activities? 2) What are the consequences for democracy of the strategies disadvantaged citizens adopt to cope with economic marginalization and violence? 3) What role does the state play in reducing or exacerbating political inequality?

To explore these questions, I employ experimental and non-experimental research designs as well as advanced statistical methods, including multilevel modeling, multilevel structural equation modeling, and causal inference techniques such as matching and instrumental variables. As an expert on survey research methodologies, my work relies extensively on public opinion and elite survey data. Several of my ongoing research projects combine public opinion data with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) information to locate the place of residence of survey respondents and examine the extent of their access to state provided resources as well as contextual characteristics at the census-tract level. My research is also informed by in-depth interviews and fieldwork I have carried out in multiple Latin American countries.

I am a member of the editorial board of two peer-reviewed journals, Political Behavior and Revista Latinoamericana de Opinión Pública.

At the University of Kentucky, I teach graduate seminars on Comparative Political Behavior (PS711) and Comparative Politics (PS620). At the undergraduate level, I teach courses on Latin American Politics (PS428) and Global Inequality (PS492). 

For more information about my research and teaching visit my personal website: 


Ongoing Book Projects

Córdova, Abby. Violence against Women and Political Participation in Contexts of Criminal Violence

  • Project supported by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, University of Notre Dame, with a Visiting Scholar Fellowship.

Abstract: Across the developing world, unprecedented levels of criminal violence led by non-state armed groups have coincided with alarming rates of violence against women (VAW). In this book project, I develop a theoretical framework that helps explain how non-state armed groups’ territorial control make women more vulnerable to gender-based violence and its consequences for women’s political participation. I argue that state absence and the resulting territorial control by criminal organizations increases women’s vulnerability to gender-based violence in and outside the home, thereby undermining women’s freedom to exercise their political rights in democratic societies. I test my hypotheses in the context of gang’s territorial control in El Salvador, relying on quantitative and qualitative data. The quantitative analyses use data from various sources, including a large-scale original survey at the neighborhood level and a nationally representative survey of VAW. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data, I explore how proximity to territories controlled by gangs affects women’s experiences with gendered violence and its consequences for women’s autonomy to engage in community and political activities.

Córdova, Abby, and Annabella España. Making Decentralization Work for Women: The Electability and Representation of Women in Local Governments.

  • Project funded by the Carrie Chapman Catt Center at Iowa State University, the American Political Science Association (APSA), the Office of the Vice President for Research and the College of Arts and Science at the University of Kentucky and the College of Social Sciences at California State University, Fresno.

Abstract: The third wave of democratization resulted in greater autonomy and more responsibilities for local governments in the developing world. One of the expectations was that decentralization reforms would bring opportunities to improve the political representation of historically marginalized populations, including women. In this book project, we seek to identify the challenges that Latin American women still face to be elected to office and influence public policy at the local level. We argue that the prevalence of gender stereotypes undermines women’s representation in local governments, particularly when women are members of an opposition party. To test our theory, we rely on qualitative and quantitative data. More specifically, we will use data from an original multi-year elite survey carried out among 1000 elected council members across 101 municipalities in El Salvador, in-depth interviews with party leaders and council members, content analysis of council meetings, and electoral data from more than 5,000 municipalities across 22 Latin American countries.

Peer Reviewed Articles

Córdova, Abby and Jonathan Hiskey. Forthcoming. “Development Context and the Political Behavior of Remittance Recipients in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Political Behavior 

Abstract: Remittances have become a chief source of family income in developing countries. As such, these revenue streams have the potential to impact recipients’ political behavior. Empirical studies investigating this proposition, however, have yielded seemingly contradictory findings. We develop a theoretical framework that highlights the importance of national development context in understanding the distinct cross-national political behavior patterns between remittance recipients and non-recipients. Leveraging the variations in development levels across 24 Latin American countries, we evaluate propositions derived from this contention that the political implications of remittances depend in part on the development context into which they flow. We find evidence for a posited inverse relationship between development levels and the extent to which receipt of remittances induces political participation. We argue these divergent patterns emerge from the asymmetrical effect remittances have on the economic perceptions and cross-border ties of recipients living in distinct development contexts.

Córdova, Abby and Helen Kras. Forthcoming. “Addressing Violence against Women: The Effect of Women’s Police Stations on Police Legitimacy.” Comparative Political Studies

Abstract: With a focus on the implementation of women’s police stations (WPS), we posit that local policies that address violence against women can result in positive feedback effects on institutional legitimacy. We theorize WPS increase police legitimacy among women by improving perceptions of personal safety and government responsiveness. To test our hypotheses, we rely on municipal and public opinion data from more than 100 municipalities in Brazil. The results of our multilevel analysis indicate that WPS produce positive feedback effects among women, resulting in higher trust in the police among women than men and closing the gender gap in perceptions of police effectiveness. Incorporating an instrumental variable in the analyses yields similar results, suggesting that these effects are not endogenous. Moreover, the results of our mediation models show that WPS’ positive effects on women’s views of police legitimacy are driven by improved perceptions of personal safety, not perceptions of government responsiveness.

Córdova, Abby. 2019. “Living in Gang-Controlled Neighborhoods: Impacts on Electoral and Non-Electoral Participation in El Salvador.” Latin American Research Review, 54(1), 201–221.

  • Paper presented at the 2017 Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference in a featured panel co-sponsored by the Latin American Research Review and the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Abstract: Gangs’ territorial control affects the lives of residents in thousands of neighborhoods across Latin America. In Northern Central American countries in particular, gang control over entire neighborhoods is a widespread phenomenon. I argue that gang dominance constrains the ability of neighborhood residents to mobilize politically, and consequently resist gang violence through institutionalized channels. Living in gang controlled neighborhoods results in fewer incentives and opportunities to make political elites accountable for one’s personal safety. Even residents who have already experienced crime first hand are discouraged from turning to politics as a strategy to change the status quo. My theoretical insights identify mechanisms through which gangs’ neighborhood control affects non-electoral and electoral participation. To test my hypotheses, I rely on census and public opinion data collected in 71 neighborhoods in El Salvador. I estimate a series of multilevel models to explore how the extent of gang dominance in neighborhoods conditions the political participation of crime victims and non-victims. As such, this article offers the first systematic statistical analysis of the effect of gangs’ territorial control on political participation in the Latin American context. The findings suggest that living under gang rule undermines residents’ right to engage freely in politics in nuanced ways. 

Hiskey, Jonathan, Abby Córdova, Mary Malone, and Diana Orcés. 2018. “Leaving the Devil You Know: Crime Victimization, U.S. Deterrence Policy, and the Emigration Decision in Central America.” Latin American Research Review 53(3), 429–447.

  • Featured in Panoramas and cited by the Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets. Within the first two weeks this article was published, it has been viewed online over 380 times and downloaded more than 100 times.

Abstract: Following a sharp increase in the number of border arrivals from the violence-torn countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras in the spring and summer of 2014, the United States quickly implemented a strategy designed to prevent such surges by enhancing its detention and deportation efforts. In this article, we examine the emigration decision for citizens living in the high-crime contexts of northern Central America. First, through analysis of survey data across Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, we explore the role crime victimization plays in leading residents of these countries to consider emigration. Next, using survey data collected across twelve municipalities in Honduras, we evaluate the extent to which knowledge of heightened US immigration deterrence efforts influenced respondents’ emigration decision. Though a vast majority of these respondents were aware of the stricter US immigration policy regime, this awareness had no effect on their consideration of emigration as a viable strategy.

Córdova, Abby. 2018. “The Effect of Gang Activity on Trust in Government: Evidence from El Salvador.” América Latina Hoy published by the University of Salamanca, Spain.

Córdova, Abby and Gabriela Rangel. 2017. "Addressing the Gender Gap: The Effect of Compulsory Voting on Women’s Political Engagement." Comparative Political Studies 50(2): 171-199.

Abstract: In light of gender disparities in political involvement, extant research has examined mechanisms for incorporating ordinary women into politics. We complement this literature by exploring the effect of an overlooked institution theorized to promote political equality by maximizing voter turnout: compulsory voting. We theorize that in enforced compulsory voting systems women are more likely to receive and seek information about electoral choices than their counterparts in voluntary voting systems. Consequently, compulsory voting helps narrow the gender gap beyond voting by creating opportunities and motivations for women to engage with the electoral process and its main actors. Our multilevel analysis based on cross-national survey data lends strong support to our hypotheses. Countries with enforced mandatory voting laws display a much smaller gender gap not only in voting, but also in several other forms of electoral engagement, including political party information, campaign attentiveness, party attachment, and campaign participation.   

Barnes, Tiffany and Abby Córdova (equal author contribution). 2016. Making Space for Women: Explaining Citizen Support for Legislative Gender Quotas in Latin America. Journal of Politics 78(3): 670-686

  • Winner of the Midwest Political Science Association's 2017 Sophonisba Breckinridge Award for best paper on women and politics.

Abstract: Gender quotas have been adopted in over a hundred countries in an effort to address gender disparities in national legislatures. Yet, the determinants of citizen support for gender quota policies remain largely understudied. We develop a theory that emphasizes the impact of institutional performance and political values to explain citizen support for gender quotas and how these two factors differentially influence men’s and women’s quota support. Based on data for 24 Latin American countries, we find that citizens in countries with relatively good governance quality who express a strong preference for government involvement to improve citizens’ wellbeing show the highest levels of quota support. Further, whereas good governance increases quota support at a higher rate among men than women, preferences for government involvement exert a stronger influence on women’s support for quotas. Consequently, good governance quality reduces the gender gap in quota support by substantially increasing men’s support for quotas.

Córdova, Abby and Matthew Layton. 2016. “When Is ‘Delivering the Goods’ Not Good Enough? How Economic Disparities in Latin American Neighborhoods Shape Citizen Trust in Local Government.” World Politics 68(1): 74-110.

Abstract: This article develops and tests a theory to explain why perceptions of good government performance are a necessary but insufficient condition for the poor to trust their local government. The authors theorize that independent of partisan sympathies, the poor evaluate local government on the basis of government performance and the economic disparities that they observe in their neighborhood of residence. Accordingly, even if the poor hold positive perceptions of government performance, they are less likely to trust their local government when they live in a context of high economic inequality. To test their theory, the authors rely on census, public opinion, and systematic observation data collected within resident-identified neighborhood borders in each of seventy-one neighborhoods sampled from six municipalities in El Salvador. The findings are consistent with the hypotheses and indicate that economic inequality at the neighborhood level may produce a reservoir of distrust in local government among the poor. The results further highlight the political relevance of neighborhoods for the formation of citizen attitudes toward local government in the Latin American context.

Córdova, Abby and Jonathan Hiskey. 2015. “Shaping Politics at Home: Cross-Border Social Ties and Local-Level Political Engagement.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (11): 1454-1487.

Abstract: The dramatic rise of democratic regimes around the world has coincided with an equally significant increase in migration, characterized by an unprecedented movement of people from emerging to established democracies. Through analysis of survey data from six Latin American countries, we offer an empirical evaluation of theoretical mechanisms through which migration can shape the political behaviors of non-migrants in sending nations. We find that individuals who have strong cross-border ties that connect them with relatives living in the U.S. are more likely to participate in local politics, sympathize with a political party, and persuade others to vote for a party. Those effects are influenced by the positive impact of cross-border ties on civic community involvement, political interest, and political efficacy. Moreover, the evidence suggests that frequent usage of the Internet among non-migrants with strong cross-border ties results in increased political knowledge, which contributes to their greater political interest and efficacy.

Córdova, Abby. 2011. “The Role of Social Capital in Citizen Support for Government Action to Reduce Economic Inequality.” Journal of International Sociology 41 (2): 28-50. (Special Issue on Political Inequality in Latin America)

Abstracts: This article suggests that an important source of political conflict in Latin America and the Caribbean is the disagreement among the citizenry on the role of government in reducing economic inequality, particularly between the very rich and the poor. While the poor clamor for vigorous public policies to reduce economic inequality, the rich show significantly lower support. The findings of this article, however, indicate that social capital, in the form of interpersonal trust, does work as a conciliatory force between haves and have-nots. The results shed light on the importance of cultivating social capital in the region to boost support among the wealthy for public policies that favor the poor, and consequently for creating the political conditions for governments to fight economic inequality and, in turn, political disparities.

Córdova, Abby and Mitchell A. Seligson. 2010. “Economic Shocks and Democratic Vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean.” Latin American Politics and Society 52 (2): 1-35.

Abstract: Historical evidence suggests that bad economic times often mean bad times for democracy, but prior research has given us little guidance on how this process may work. What economic conditions are most threatening, and how might they weaken consolidating democracies? This article uses the AmericasBarometer conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) to answer these questions by focusing on core attitudes for the consolidation of democracy. We use survey data at the level of the individual and economic data at the country level to help detect democratic vulnerabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study finds that conditions of low levels of economic development, low economic growth, and high levels of income inequality increase those vulnerabilities substantially, but the effects are not uniform across individuals. Some groups, especially the young and the poor, are particularly vulnerable to some antidemocratic appeals.

Córdova, Abby and Mitchell A. Seligson. 2010. “Governance and Support for Stable Democracy in Latin America: Results from the AmericasBarometer 2008.” Journal of Democracy en Español 2: 28-46.   

Abstract: The results of the AmericasBarometer surveys show that support for stable democracy in Latin America is strongly determined by the performance of the state. We find that, in addition to personal traits such as age and socio-economic status, factors related to democratic governance strongly influence citizens’ values theorized to be important for democratic stability. Experiences with crime and corruption and perceptions that democratic governments are not doing enough to improve citizens’ living conditions are undermining citizen support for democracy in many countries in the region.

Córdova, Abby and Mitchell A. Seligson. 2009. “Economic Crisis and Democracy in Latin America.” PS: Political Science & Politics (4): 673-678.

Abstract: While the world is focused on the economic impact of the financial and credit meltdown, what might be its impact on politics? In well-established democracies, probably not more than elections lost by incumbent parties seen as having mismanaged the economy. But what of consolidating democracies that predominate in the developing world, where some forecasts expect the crisis to hit the poor especially hard? This article uses AmericasBarometer survey data from Latin America and the Caribbean drawn on the eve of the crisis to project how it might affect democracy in the region.   

Methodological Studies

Measuring Community Resilience and Citizen Insecurity. 2014. (Study Prepared for USAID-Guatemala)

The survey instruments and methodology developed will be used to monitor the impact of USAID crime prevention programs on democratic governance in Guatemala. 

Measuring Relative Wealth using Household Asset Indicators and Principal Component Analysis (PCA). 2009. Insights Series 6. Nashville: Latin American Public Opinion Project, Vanderbilt University. 

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