Department of Political Science

When Politics Matters: The Impact of Politicians' and Bureaucrats' Policy Preferences on Salient and Nonsalient Policy Areas

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The public administration literature provides ample reasons why civil servants may be influential in public policy. However, for three decades, the ‘politics matters’ literature has found that political ideology is an important explanation of public policy, which indicates that politicians actually control their civil servants. But, the ‘politics matters’ literature systematically fails to include the influence of the bureaucracy. In fact, it is almost impossible to identify a single study in this literature that controls for the influence of the permanent bureaucracy. In this paper we investigate whether politics still matters when bureaucratic preferences are taken into account. We do this in a simultaneous test of political and bureaucratic influences on public budgets, a policy measure often studied in the ‘politics matters’ literature. We find that political preferences trump bureaucratic ones in policy areas salient to the public, but not in less salient areas. This might be comforting news from a democratic perspective. However, since public budgets represent an easy case for political influence, it is food for thought that political preferences do not always prevail.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGovernance: An international journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions
Pages (from-to)459-474
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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