Public Choice

, Volume 166, Issue 3–4, pp 315–333 | Cite as

Public–private political cleavage: what happens after retirement?

  • Jørn RattsøEmail author
  • Rune J. Sørensen


Political preferences of public employees differ from those of workers in the private sector. The former are more likely to vote for left-wing parties and orient themselves ideologically towards the left. This political cleavage can be understood as the result of occupational incentives, or alternatively, as ideological self-selection whereby individuals favoring government solutions seek employment in the public sector. We test the selection hypothesis by estimating the effects of public versus private occupational sector on political preferences before and after retirement. The data are from the Norwegian Election Surveys and cover nine national elections between 1977 and 2009. The research design addresses a series of cross-sectional data and the key challenge of endogenous retirement is handled with instrumental variables. Party choice, ideological orientation, and public spending preferences are shown to change following retirement, and former private and public employees converge. The results reject selection based on ‘hard-wired’ political preferences.


Public-private cleavage Political preferences Party choice Election surveys Retirement 



We appreciate comments at the December 2012 BI workshop on political economy, the 2014 EPSA meeting in Edinburgh, the 2015 European Public Choice meeting in Groningen, and staff seminar at the Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, in particular Michael Becher, Aziz Berdiev, Jon Fiva, Olle Folke, Oddbjørn Knutsen, Martin Paldam, two referees, and the editor.


  1. Bennett, J. T., & Orzechowski, W. P. (1983). The voting behavior of bureaucrats: some empirical evidence. Public Choice, 41, 271–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bjørklund, T. (1999). Public versus private sector, a new division in voting behavior. In H. M. Narud & T. Aalberg (Eds.), Challenges to representative democracy: Parties, Voters, and public opinion. Oslo: Fagbokforlaget.Google Scholar
  3. Blais, A., Blake, D. E., & Dion, S. (1990). The public/private cleavage in North America: The political behavior and attitudes of public sector employees. Comparative Political Studies, 23, 381–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blais, A., Blake, D. E., & Dion, S. (1991). The voting behavior of bureaucrats’. In A. Blais & S. Dion (Eds.), The budget-maximizing bureaucrat: Appraisal and evidence. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brewer, G. (2003). Building social capital: Civic attitudes and the behavior of public servants. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 13, 5–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bush, W., & Denzau, A. (1977). The voting behavior of bureaucrats and public sector growth. In T. Borcherding (Ed.), Budgets and bureaucrats. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Cowley, E. & S. Smith (2013). Motivation and mission in the public sector: evidence from the World Values Survey. Working Paper No. 13/299, Centre for Market and Public Organization, University of Bristol.Google Scholar
  8. Downs, A. (1967). Inside bureaucracy. New York: Little and Brown.Google Scholar
  9. Dur, R. & Zoutenbier, R. (2013). Intrinsic motivations of public sector employees: evidence from Germany. CESifo Working Paper No. 4276, Center for Economic Studies & Ifo Institute.Google Scholar
  10. Edlund, L., & Pande, R. (2002). Why have women become left-wing? The political gender gap and the decline of marriage. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117, 917–961.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Folke, O. J. Fiva & R.J. Sørensen, R.J. (2012). Political representation and fiscal policy: A causal or casual relationship? Working Paper, BI Norwegian School of Business.Google Scholar
  12. Garand, J. C., Parkhurst, C. T., & Seoud, R. J. (1991). Bureaucrats, policy attitudes and political behavior: extension of the bureau voting model of government growth. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 1, 177–212.Google Scholar
  13. Hernaes, E., Markussen, S., Piggott, J., & Vestad, O. (2013). Does retirement age impact mortality? Journal of Health Economics, 32, 586–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Inglehart, R., & Norris, P. (2000). The developmental theory of the gender gap: Women’s and men’s voting behavior in global perspective. International Political Science Review, 21(4), 441–463.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jensen, J. L., Sum, P. E., & Flynn, D. T. (2009). Political orientation and behavior of public employees: A cross-national comparison. Journal of Public Administration Research and Policy, 19, 709–730.Google Scholar
  16. Knutsen, O. (2001). Social class, sector employment and gender as party cleavages in the Scandinavian countries: A comparative longitudinal study, 1970–95’. Scandinavian Political Studies, 24, 311–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Knutsen, O. (2005). The impact of sector employment on party choice. A comparative study of 8 West European countries. European Journal of Political Research, 44, 593–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lewis, G. B., & Frank, S. A. (2002). Who wants to work for the government? Public Administration Review, 62, 395–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lott, J. R, Jr, & Kenny, L. W. (1999). Did women’s suffrage change the size and scope of government? Journal of Political Economy, 107(6), 1163–1198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Niskanen, W. (1971). Bureaucracy and representative government. Chicago: Aldine Atherton.Google Scholar
  21. Norrander, B., & Wilcox, C. (2008). The gender gap in ideology. Political Behavior, 30, 503–523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Otterbekk, S. R., L. Rose & J. Saglie (2010). Lokalvalgundersøkelsene (Local election study) 1995–2007, Dokumentasjonsrapport, ISF 2010:008, Institutt for samfunnsforskning.Google Scholar
  23. Perry, J. L., Hondeghem, A., & Wise, L. R. (2010). Revisiting the motivational basis of public service: Twenty years of research and an agenda for the future. Public Administration Review, 70, 681–690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rattsø, J., & Sørensen, R. J. (2004). Public employees as swing voters: Empirical evidence on opposition to public sector reform. Public Choice, 119, 281–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rattsø, J., & Sørensen, R. J. (2010). Grey power and public budgets. Family altruism helps children, but not the elderly. European Journal of Political Economy, 26, 222–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Tepe, M. (2012). The public/private sector cleavage revisited: The impact of government employment on political attitudes and behavior in 11 West European countries. Public Administration, 90, 230–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Vandenabeele, W. (2008). Government calling: Public service motivation as an element in selecting government as an employer of choice. Public Administration, 86, 1089–1105.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsBI Norwegian Business SchoolOsloNorway

Personalised recommendations