Elections, Ideology, and Turnover in the U.S. Federal Government
63 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2016 Last revised: 28 Feb 2021
Date Written: December 2016
A defining feature of public sector employment is the regular change in elected leadership. Yet, we know little about how elections influence careers. We describe how elections can alter policy outputs and disrupt civil servants’ influence over agency decisions, potentially shaping their career choices. We use new data on federal career records between 1988 and 2011 to evaluate how elections influence turnover decisions. We find large levels of stability in the civil service but also pockets of employees that are responsive to presidential transitions. Senior career employees in agencies with views divergent from the president’s appear most affected. In the first three years of an administration, political factors such as elections, policy priorities, and political ideological differences, are estimated to increase turnover in the senior civil service by 30.9% in some agencies. We also find suggestive evidence that vacancies in high-level positions after elections may induce lower-level executives to stay longer in hopes of advancing.
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