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Unformatted text preview: UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC SUPPORT FOR THE US FEDERAL BUREAUCRACY A macro politics view Susan Webb Yackee and David Lowery Susan Webb Yackee Assistant Professor University of Southern California School of Policy, Planning, and Development RGL 201D Los Angeles CA 90089-0626 USA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org David Lowery Professor of Public Administration Leiden University Pieter de la Court gebouw Postbus 9555, 2300 RB Leiden The Netherlands E-mail: email@example.com Abstract While a number of scholars have examined citizens satisfaction with specific encounters with government agencies, few studies have assessed explanations of the publics overall evaluations of bureaucratic performance, especially accounts that address sources of variation over time. We address this gap with a new annual time series measure of aggregate assessments of the US federal bureaucracy. We find that public approval of bureaucratic performance varies markedly over time. We then test a number of prior explanations for this movement focusing on both broad contextual forces in the political environment and more specific variables more closely associated with the federal bureaucracy. While data limitations preclude developing a fully specified model tapping all of the explanations simultaneously, we are able to rule out a wide range of usual suspects as free standing or sufficient accounts of variations in aggregate bureau- cratic approval over time. But we also isolate a number of promising explanations. Key words Administration, approval, bureaucracy, gov- ernment performance, public agencies Vol. 7 Issue 4 2005 515 536 Public Management Review ISSN 1471-9037 print/ISSN 1471-9045 online 2005 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/14719030500362389 Americans have strikingly mixed views about the effectiveness of public bureaucracy. On the one hand, public agencies are often viewed as unresponsive, inefficient and hopelessly mired in red tape (Goodsell 1994). At the same time, however, Americans routinely support more or the same level of public services (Bennett and Bennett 1990: 79 108) and tend to be highly satisfied with specific encounters with public agencies (for a review of these studies, see Goodsell 1994: 25 49). Scholars have done an excellent job in examining the individual-level determinants of the second of these perspectives in studies of citizen interactions with particular agencies (Katz et al. 1975; Alvarez and Brehm 1998). But few studies have examined sources of variation underlying the more global negative assessments of bureaucracy. In large part, this failure is a function of the juxtaposition of limited data and the macro-level sources of variation hypothesized to influence global assessments of public bureaucracy. That is, many of the hypothesized determinants of these global assessments address causes that vary more over time than across individuals, and we simply have very few temporal measures of citizens views about bureaucracy as a whole. Indeed,very few temporal measures of citizens views about bureaucracy as a whole....
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