Malleable partisanship: Political dynamics in bureaucratic elites’ partisan identification

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Sterling Hall, conference room 1328
@ 12:30 pm - 1:45 pm
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Professor Susan Webb Yackee and coauthors share research on how bureaucratic elites may adjust their partisanship in response to political turnover.


  • Benny Geys, Department of Economics, BI Norwegian Business School
  • Per Lægreid, Department of Government, University of Bergen
  • Zuzana Murdoch, Department of Government, University of Bergen
  • Susan Webb Yackee, La Follette School of Public Affairs

Working abstract

 A change in the party in power represents a major shift in the political environment for public bureaucrats. Building on principal-agent and organization theory, we hypothesize that bureaucratic elites respond to such political turnover by adjusting their partisanship towards that of their elected principals. We test this prediction using data from the American State Administrators Project (ASAP) over the 1964-2008 period, which allows us to study the same US agency leaders (N=951 individuals) before and after partisan shifts in their agency’s elected principals. We find significant evidence that agency leaders reorient their partisan identity in response to shifts in the party in power. Such adjustments are stronger for agency leaders directly appointed by, or having more frequent contacts with, their elected principals, as well as those more heavily involved in policy development rather than internal management. These results suggest a malleability of partisanship seldom attributed to bureaucratic elites.


La Follette School of Public Affairs