Panel Paper: Issue Reprioritization Amidst Performance Ambiguity: How Politician’s’ Public-Private Preferences Overwhelm Goal Preferences

Thursday, November 2, 2017
San Francisco (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Julian Christensen1, Asbjørn Mathiasen1, Casper Mondrup Dahlman1, Niels Bjørn Petersen1 and Donald Moynihan2, (1)Aarhus University, (2)University of Wisconsin - Madison

Performance measurement is ubiquitious in public policy and management, with the expectation that political principals will use data. There is growing evidence that ideological biases affect how people process performance data about public organizations. However, we know little about how motivated decision-makers prioritize between multiple pieces of often contradictory performance data that reflect the competing goals of public services. We adapt a theory of “issue reprioritization” to offer insight into this realistic context of performance ambiguity. Here, subjects minimize cognitive dissonance between ideological beliefs and multiple pieces of information about goals by reprioritizing goals to fit with prior beliefs. We offer experimental evidence of issue reprioritization, showing that elected officials asked to evaluate the performance of schools reprioritize data about test scores or student well-being – two distinct goals expectations of schools – to fit with their preferences for public or private service provision. Ideological beliefs about the nature of the public sector – what we term governance preferences – therefore cause elected officials to set aside the evaluative criteria by which they would otherwise judge public sector performance