Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Voter Turnout and Bureaucrats across Time: A Further Examination of the Bureau Voting Model in the United States

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Voter Turnout and Bureaucrats across Time: A Further Examination of the Bureau Voting Model in the United States

Article excerpt


Voter turnout is one of the most studied political phenomenon because of normative beliefs about how democracy should function. The foundation of a democracy is built upon the views of the people; if those who vote are systematically different from those who abstain, democracy is weakened. Along this same line, elections have consequences, and the path of the country is dependent upon the choices made by voters. Determining what influences the decision to vote, therefore, remains a critical endeavor.

Previous research identifies a litany of factors that are related to going to the polls. Many of the influences are based on individuals themselves, such as partisan intensity, political efficacy, or even genetics (Campbell et al. 1960, Fowler and Dawes 2008). Others are rooted in the election itself, such as the highest level of office on the ballot or the perceived closeness of the race (Riker and Ordeshook 1968, Jackson 2002). Institutions also shape turnout, such as the ease of registration (Vonnahme 2012) or residency requirements (Highton 2004). Campaigns themselves may affect turnout through directly contacting people (Gerber and Green 2000) or through negative advertisements (Krupnikov 2011). Even the weather has been found to affect turnout (Gomez, Hansford, and Krause 2007). Nestled among these various approaches lies one that reaches into the realm of public administration: the bureau voting model.

The bureau voting model (BVM) argues that employees in the public sector are fundamentally different from those in the private sector in terms of their political attitudes and behavior. There are three prongs to the theory: government employees are more likely to be liberal; government employees are more likely to vote; and government employees are more likely to vote for Democrats. The relationship between public sector employment and turnout has been analyzed for over eighty years (Martin 1933, Wolfinger and Rosenstone 1980, Garand et al. 1991, Corey and Garand 2002). The BVM assumes that public sector employees have more information than the general public while also facing fewer costs to obtain that information. Thus, according to Downs (1957), public sector employees should be more likely to vote. The BVM is used to explain growth in the public sector; their outsized impact at the polls could potentially lead to more public spending (Garand 1988).

This paper refines the turnout portion of the BVM in three ways. First, it questions the assumptions of the economic theory of voting as it has been applied to the BVM. In the United States, government employees may lack the proper motivation to vote at a higher rate than the general public due to many issues, such as the relative security of their employment or the lack of a tangible benefit from voting. Secondly, this analysis uses data gathered from numerous elections in a cross-sectional time series. This allows for an analysis of change over a larger period of time than has previously been studied. In addition, it incorporates different types of elections, as both presidential and midterm elections are included. Finally, it uses more fully specified statistical models. Such diagnostics allow for stronger tests of the theory. Analyses from sixteen elections over a 30-year period show that government employment does not statistically nor substantively impact turnout. This finding suggests that the BVM may need to be refined to apply to the United States.

This article will only focus on one aspect of the BVM: voter turnout. While other authors have explored all three prongs of the BVM (Garand et al. 1991, Jensen et al. 2009), those studies only included a limited number of variables or analyzed few elections. This article analyzes elections over a 30-year period and includes more independent variables so as to not underspecify the model.

In addition, a recent study found a lack of empirical support for the other two parts of the BVM in the United States, as there was no evidence that government employment had an effect on ideology or on vote choice (Bednarczuk In Press). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.