Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Ideological Dispositions and Citizens' Evaluation of the Public Sector

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:15 AM
Tuttle Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ulrik Hvidman, Aarhus University
Media, politicians, and reform advocates frequently assert that public sector institutions are inefficient and burdened by administrative rules and procedures. But are negative stereotypes of public organizations reflected in citizens’ perceptions of public service provision? Given the methodological challenges in isolating the perception of ownership from other factors related to public organizations (e.g., fields of responsibility, organizational size), we know little about whether public organizations have a negative image.

We use a survey experimental design to isolate the effect of ownership on perceptions of performance. The experiment is conducted among a representative sample of 2,000 Danes. We provide the respondents with a screenshot of a website of a fictitious elderly care provider. The website provides information on the elderly care provider’s mission and internal organization. We randomly assign whether the organization is “public” or “private.” In this controlled setting—where only the ownership of the elderly care provider varies—we are able to isolate the effect of this factor from other confounders.

The study contributes to the literature on citizens’ perception of the public sector in three important ways. First, as this study is a randomized experiment with a representative sample of citizens, the study provides evidence on whether ownership causally affects perceptions of performance. Second, as this study examines a broad variety of performance dimensions—including equity and fairness towards workers—it tests whether public sector organizations generally have a negative image or if there exists a trade-off between productivity related aspects of performance (e.g., efficiency and effectiveness) and more normative aspects of performance (e.g., equity, fairness, and benevolence). Third, to get a better understanding of the underlying mechanism that causes a negative public sector image, the study examines the role of ideology and partisanship in shaping citizens’ perceptions of the public sector.