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Are Citizens More Negative About Failing Service Delivery by Public Than Private Organizations?

Petra van der Bekerom, Joris van der Voet, and Johan Christensen, three assistant professors at Leiden University, conducted a large-scale survey experiment about whether citizens are more negative about failing service delivery than private organizations.

Petra van den Bekerom, Joris van der Voet, Johan Christensen
15 July 2020

Citizens’ perceptions of the performance of public service providers are a central concern for academics and policy-makers alike. A growing body of behavioral public administration research emphasizes the psychological biases that shape the perceptions of citizens. This article makes a novel contribution to this debate by examining the interaction between politically motivated bias and cognitive bias in citizens’ performance appraisals. It asks: Are citizens more negative about failing service delivery by public organizations than by private organizations, and if so, why? This is investigated through a survey experiment conducted among a representative sample of 2,623 Dutch citizens. The main finding of the study is that public organizations are punished more severely by citizens for negative performance information than private organizations, but this tendency is concentrated among citizens who have a preference for private service provision and varies across service areas. Our study shows not only that citizens’ processing of information about public services is subject to various forms of bias, but also that these biases interact in shaping how citizens view public organizations. Further investigating these complex dynamics is an important task for behavioral public administration scholars seeking to understand the specific implications of behavioral dynamics for the broad range of organizations providing public services.

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