Department of Political Science


Agents of past principals: Lasting effects of incumbents on the political ideology of bureaucrats

12 July 2021

Governments shape ideology of bureaucrats long after leaving office: bureaucrats are more right-wing than citizens in countries with more authoritarian pasts and more left-wing in countries with longer prior left-wing rule.


Understanding representation is central to politics. Numerous studies assess under which conditions politicians share citizens’ ideological preferences. Under which conditions bureaucrats share citizens’ ideological preferences has not been systematically studied, however. Yet, bureaucratic preferences shape policy outcomes. Our paper thus studies why bureaucrats are more right or left-wing than citizens in some countries and points of time, yet not others. We theorize that political ideologies of past incumbents shape this variation. Incumbents can select ideologically-aligned bureaucrats and socialize bureaucrats into ideological preferences; moreover, prospective bureaucrats may self-select into ideologically-aligned governments. As bureaucratic tenure exceeds political tenure, this politicization has lasting effects. Survey data from 87 countries supports this argument: bureaucrats are more left-leaning than citizens in countries with longer prior rule by economically left-wing governments, and more right-wing in countries with more authoritarian pasts. This suggests that incumbents continue to shape the ideological preferences of bureaucrats after leaving office.

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Authors: Roland KappeChristian Schuster