Citizen Judgement of Misbehaving in City Hall: Experimental Evidence of the Role of Demographic Factors and Behavioral Intentions

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This presentation was given at the Public Management Research Conference (PMRC).

ABSTRACT. Social equity research provides evidence of inequities at all levels of government and within diverse policy domains ranging from education to healthcare to public transportation and the environment (Guy and McCandless 2012; Gooden 2017). Similarly, the human resource management literature finds workplace disparities, such as those related to unequal pay or assessment of performance resulting from biases and stereotypes of age (Posthuma and Campion 2009; Ng and Feldman 2012; Abrams, Swift, and Drury 2016); gender (Hale 1999; Alkadry and Tower 2011; Meier and Wilkins 2002); and race (Wilson 2006; Ortega, Plagens, Stephens, and Berry-James 2012; Riccucci and Saldivar 2014). Citing the theoretical and practical limitations of viewing these factors in isolation, Bearfield (2009), Stivers (2002), and others advocate for social equity research that accommodates intersectionality (Crenshaw 1994) and the reality of simultaneous membership in multiple identity categories. This perspective is consistent with recent public administration studies of the interaction effects of race and gender on disparities in work assignments (Christensen, Szmer, and Stritch 2012), government contracting with minority- and women-owned firms (Fernandez, Malatesta, and Smith 2013), and use of legal authority (Portillo 2008). This study extends the intersectionality conversation into representative bureaucracy, ethics, and public opinion, exploring the effects of particular demographic profiles of government officials on citizen attitudes toward such actors and their behaviors. Specifically, the paper’s research questions ask: Are citizen assessments of city managers’ formal rule violations driven by gender, age, and race or a confluence of these factors? Are patterns of citizen judgment of rule breaking city managers of specific gender-race-age profiles similar for violations driven by pro-social versus self-interested motives? And, do similar patterns emerge with citizen response to city managers accused of criminal behavior? Using survey experiments, the authors test for main and interaction effects of gender, race, age, and violation intentions on the severity of citizens’ recommendations for penalties taken against city managers reported to have broken formal rules or allegedly engaged in unlawful acts. Study participants are randomly presented with fictional news reports, which include photographs of the alleged offender along with descriptions of the events, and then asked to levy hypothetical punishment. The study contributes empirical evidence for social equity discussions related to disparities existing at the intersection of multiple identity categories while incorporating the effects of behavioral intentions of government leaders. Findings have implications for management of diversity and inclusion as well as leadership and ethics in public service.


Public Management Research Conference (PMRC)


Chapel-Hill, NC