Elections, Ideology, and Turnover in the U.S. Federal Government

46 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2016 Last revised: 8 Feb 2017

See all articles by Alexander Bolton

Alexander Bolton

Emory University

John M. de Figueiredo

Duke University School of Law; Duke University - Fuqua School of Business; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative

David E. Lewis

Vanderbilt University - Department of Political Science; Vanderbilt University - Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 12, 2016


A defining feature of public sector employment is the regular change in elected leadership. Yet, we know little about how elections influence public sector careers. We describe how elections alter policy outputs and disrupt the influence of civil servants over agency decisions. These changes shape the career choices of employees motivated by policy, influence, and wages. Using new Office of Personnel Management data on the careers of millions of federal employees between 1988 and 2011, we evaluate how elections influence employee turnover decisions. We find that presidential elections increase departure rates of career senior employees, particularly in agencies with divergent views relative to the new president and at the start of presidential terms. 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. We conclude with implications of our findings for public policy, presidential politics, and public management.

Keywords: Public Sector Personnel Economics; Expertise; Turnover

JEL Classification: H11, J45, J63, K0

Suggested Citation

Bolton, Alexander and de Figueiredo, John M. and Lewis, David E., Elections, Ideology, and Turnover in the U.S. Federal Government (December 12, 2016). Duke I&E Research Paper No. 2017-02, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2017-11, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2884117 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2884117

Alexander Bolton

Emory University ( email )

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John M. De Figueiredo (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law ( email )

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Duke University - Fuqua School of Business ( email )

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David E. Lewis

Vanderbilt University - Department of Political Science ( email )

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Vanderbilt University - Law School

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