In his latest project, Pacifying the Countryside in Spain, Professor Michael Albertus examines the redistributive settlement programs of Francisco Franco and their effectiveness in building support for his regime ahead of the country’s democratic transition in the 1970’s. The data is historical, but the findings will reach deep into the politics of our own time. From the Affordable Care Act to underdevelopment abroad, modern discourse may find a great deal indeed in dictatorial town building half a century past.

Whether Franco’s rural development efforts managed to secure any meaningful support from benefiting populations is surprisingly unsure. On the complexities of policy reception, Albertus explains, “redistribution can backfire when a party owns the issue but does not entirely control it. The electoral fate of reformers is directly linked to the positions that other political actors adopt towards the program when they are empowered to hamstring, curtail, or claim credit for it.”

Further exacerbating the issue, “major redistributive policies implicate not only eligible beneficiaries and payers, but also eligible and ineligible nonbeneficiaries. Where program saturation is low, these latter two constituencies can outnumber net winners and losers and become the set of voters that effectively determine the electoral fates of politicians.”

The dynamic landscape following Franco’s death in 1975 held plenty of room for such confounding variables, a wealth of connections which Pacifying the Countryside in Spain seeks to elucidate. “You can learn a lot about how politics and redistribution work from the program. And because it was in the past, we know what the reactions were to the program too,” Albertus says. “Basically every policy is redistributive in one way or another, so these issues pervade politics and affect us all.”

Helping trace the reactions back through three decades of town building is Ahmed Zaki, a rising senior in the College. Zaki’s interests make him the perfect RA for the project—double majoring in Economics and Political Science, he hopes to one day apply both to his own academic research. He was matched with Albertus through the Summer Institute in Social Research Methods, where his Intro to GIS and Spatial Analysis course has given him the tools to dig into the collection of data at hand.

“Given how old the Franco dictatorship is, most data from the time is not digitized. One of my tasks is taking raw data from the census, for example, and then digitizing it for further use during our research,” says Zaki. “After extracting raw data, one very useful thing we want to do is visualize it onto a map of Spain. Using a host of geospatial techniques and software like R and QGIS, we mapped multiple variables of interest like agricultural yields of different crops in different regions of the country.”

Zaki intends to take the methods of this project into his own research on the unique dynamics of the Middle East someday. “Overall, the SISRM experience, between the class and Professor Albertus, has been very fulfilling whether on a personal or on an academic level. Learning and applying a new technique of analysis is vital, specifically as the social sciences move towards a progressively more quantitatively rigorous direction.”