Back to search

DEMOS-Demokratisk og effektiv styring, planlegging og forvaltning

Bureaucrats and group identity in local politics

Alternative title: Offentlig ansatte og gruppeidentitet i lokalpolitikken

Awarded: NOK 8.0 mill.

Over-representation of public employees In Norway, almost all public employees are eligible for public office, and can be elected as representatives to municipal councils, county councils and the national parliament (the Storting). For example, the vast majority of municipal employees can be included on election lists in their own municipality. Only the top administrative officials cannot run for political office. This is not the case in all countries. For example, most local public employees cannot compete in local elections in the UK. Underlying these legislative restrictions is the idea that civil servants should be politically independent, which might be jeopardized when public employees are tempted to cater for their own employment interests once elected. We exploit register data on eligible citizens, list candidates and elected representatives in the local elections of 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. Relative to the occupational composition of the entire electorate, we find that municipal employees are strongly overrepresented in the municipal councils. Similarly, county employees are over-represented in the county councils (relative to their size in the electorate). One potential explanation for this empirical pattern is the "double motive" of public servants: i.e. they want to influence public policy priorities both as consumers of public services and as municipal employees providing these public services. Evaluating the data further, we find no indication that the strong (over)representation of public employees is due to party elites? priorities when drawing up electoral lists, or to voters? preferential voting in favour of public employees. Rather, our study shows an important role of public employees? "self-selection" due to their dual motive; public employees choose to stand for election ? and on secure places on the electoral lists ? to a greater extent than other occupational groups. Other analyses likewise are consistent with the hypothesis of a dual motive. Switching from the private to the (local) public sector increases the likelihood of appearing on a local election list and becoming a local council member. Moreover, changing from a job in the municipal public sector outside one?s home municipality to a similar job in the municipality of residence again increases the chance of getting involved in local politics at home. Voter turnout and public vs private sector employment The hypothesis of a double motive is also relevant for civil servants? electoral participation. If civil servants want to influence public policy priorities both as consumers of public services and as employees providing these public services, they would be expected to become more likely to cast their vote in elections (compared to employees in the private sector). We analyze individual-level register data on voter turnout in the local and national elections conducted in the period 2013-2019. This allows us to follow individuals across elections and analyze effects of shifting sectoral affiliations. We also analyze employees who shift work location to (or away from) the residential municipality (where they are eligible to vote) to other municipalities. The study also addresses shift from public and private employment into retirement. The results yield support for the double-motive hypothesis and indicate that shifts into public sector employment yields 1-3 percentage points higher voter turnout. Politicization of public administration A key democratic principle is the separation of political and administrative responsibilities. We investigate this issue by linking information from election lists to information about top municipal administrators (the chief municipal administrators; CMOs). This allows us to assess the (potential) politicisation of top administrators in Norwegian municipalities. Surprisingly, we find that 27% of CMOs have run for election at municipal, county or national level, and thus reveal a clear political leaning. We subsequently analyse situations where we have a (mis-)match between the political leaning of the CMO and the majority in the local council. We find that CMOs get a higher salary increase when the majority of the municipal council and the head of administration have the same political orientation. We do not interpret this as favouritism, but as the result of more effective collaboration between the head of the municipal administration and the political leadership. Studies from other countries indicate that popularly elected assemblies often favour their political supporters, so that these supporters achieve higher income growth. We find no support for such political favouritism in Norwegian data. Other results The project has furthermore addressed a number of related issues, including the effect of gender quotas in the local executive boards, the impact of seniority in elected assemblies, the effect of administrative delegation on budgetary discipline, and more.

Prosjektet har gitt økt innsikt i årsakene til og effektene av at offentlig sektor er sterkt representert i kommunestyrer og fylkesting. Videre gir prosjektet økt forståelse av kommunedirektørens (administrasjonssjefens) rolle i forhold til politisk ledelse, blant annet betydningen av felles identitet og effekter på administrativ delegering. Prosjektet har videreutviklet deltakernes internasjonale forskningsnettverk. Prosjektmedarbeiderne har arbeidet sammen med kolleger fra en rekke fremtredende universiteter, herunder med Stanford University, Harvard University og Cornell University. Videre har prosjektet lagt et til rette individdata om kandidater til valg. Dette er av stor verdi for videre forskning, og utnyttes blant annet i det nye prosjektet «The Dynamics of Political Selection». Prosjektet har dessuten bidratt til å heve kvaliteten på standardverket om kommunesektoren i Norge, læreboken «Kommunal Organisering» (Universitetsforlaget).

The project examines government employees' influence on local government politics and policy outcomes. Local administrators can affect policies in two ways: as executives responsible for policy advice and implementation, and as members of the local councils. The first work package addresses the role government employees as elected representatives. We analyze whether they can sway public policies away from the position of the majority in the local council. Norwegian legislation puts few restrictions on who can be elected representatives. Evidence collected in the current project could call for revising the current framework. The second work package investigates the influence of local chief executives (rådmannen). They have a direct influence on the development and implementation of public policies in their role as civil servants. Very little research has been done on their professional careers, personal and political backgrounds and policy influence. We assess the importance of having a suitable identity match between the executives and elected politicians. The project plan describes a set of well-developed propositions that can be tested on unique Norwegian register datasets using state-of-the-art econometrics. We believe this will allow the experienced project team to produce interesting findings for top academic journals as well as important insights for policy development.

Funding scheme:

DEMOS-Demokratisk og effektiv styring, planlegging og forvaltning