Effects of the Introduction of Merit Civil Service Legislation on Reelection Rates in the U.S.

Thursday, February 1, 2024
12:00 PM - 1:15 PM

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to Encina E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.

  • Miriam Golden
Miriam Golden seminar

Control over patronage appointments is believed to confer an electoral advantage on the incumbent. We study the effects of the introduction of merit civil service legislation between 1900 and 2016 on reelection rates of individual legislators serving across lower houses of U.S. state legislatures. Using recently-developed statistical methods appropriate for the staggered introduction of reform legislation, results show that reelection rates significantly increase following abolition of patronage appointments to the state bureaucracy. To explain this surprising result, we study changes in the pool of politicians and document a selection effect: post-reform states see faster replacement of politicians than their unreformed counterparts. To understand this more fully, we bring in partial data on rerunning and legislator occupational backgrounds. Neither of these shows significant changes with reform. Overall, our results suggest that once rotation between elected and appointed offices was restricted by reform, more ambitious and professional legislators entered elected office. However, these traits appear unobservable.


Miriam Golden holds the Peter Mair Chair in Comparative Politics at the European University Institute. She uses multiple research methods to investigate the political economy of governance, political representation, and corruption in countries around the world. Golden is currently engaged in a large-scale cross-national and historical study of how and when politicians secure reelection and has recently published The Puzzle of Clientelism: Political Discretion and Elections Around the World (Cambridge University Press, 2023) with Eugenia Nazrullaeva. Her articles have been published in The American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, The Annual Review of Political Science, Legislative Studies Quarterly, and the British Journal of Political Science. She has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences and a recipient of a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Virtual to Public. Only those with an active Stanford ID with access to Encina E008 in Encina Hall may attend in person.