Discrimination based on political beliefs: A field experiment on the freedom of assembly

AuthorChristian Adam,Christoph Knill,Stephan Grohs
Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
2022, Vol. 37(3) 261 –282
Discrimination based on
political beliefs: A field
experiment on the
freedom of assembly
Christian Adam
LMU Munich, Germany
Stephan Grohs
German University of Administrative Sciences Speyer,
Christoph Knill
LMU Munich, Germany
Public officials have been shown to discriminate against citizens based on race and
gender. We suggest that bureaucrats also discriminate based on political beliefs that
citizens reveal to them. We support this argument with evidence from the application
of freedom of assembly rights in the context of gay marriage. We confront German city
administrations with requests about the organization of a political rally and randomize
the underlying political belief and cause: the promotion of or opposition to same-sex
marriage. We find that none of these causes receives discriminatory treatment per se.
Instead, further explorative, yet theory-guided, analysis indicates that the cultural and
political environment within which bureaucracies are embedded determines which of
the two requests receives worse and less helpful answers. I.e. the treatment effect
seems to be moderated by the local prevalence of Catholicism and the strength of
sexually conservative political parties that oppose same-sex marriage.
Corresponding author:
Christian Adam, Lehrstuhl fu¨r Empirische Theorien der Politik, Geschwister-Scholl-Institut fu¨r
Politikwissenschaft, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit
at Mu¨nchen, Oettingenstraße 67, Mu¨ nchen 80538, Germany.
Email: Christian.Adam@gsi.uni-muenchen.de
Public Policy and Administration
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076720905012
262 Public Policy and Administration 37(3)
Bureaucratic discrimination, discrimination, freedom of assembly, frontline bureaucrats,
same-sex marriage
The freedom of assembly is essential to liberal democracy. Public authorities are
held to guarantee citizens the possibility to assemble and collectively promote their
political views even when these views are controversial and challenge public opin-
ion. Whether democratic systems can live up to this ideal crucially depends on the
appropriate behavior of public bureaucrats. Obviously there are instances in which
individuals who interact with government through public administrations do feel
discriminated and unduly kept from invoking their rights because of their national,
racial, or social background. The question is, however, whether discriminatory
actions by public bureaucrats are only isolated incidents or reflective of more
systematic discrimination against citizens based on ascriptive characteristics,
such as citizens’ race, gender, or sexual orientation (Christensen et al., 2012;
Einstein and Glick, 2016; Keiser et al., 2004; Lewis, 2001; Sabharwal, 2013;
Theobald and Haider-Markel, 2009). We contribute to this body of work on
bureaucratic discrimination by asking whether citizens’ political beliefs can also
give rise to bureaucratic discrimination. While discrimination based on race or
gender are, of course, pressing issues, politically polarized societies should also
be sensitive toward the dangers of discrimination based on divergent political
Methodologically, we rely on a field experiment. Experiments are valuable com-
plements to conventional methods to test theoretical arguments and advance our
theoretical understanding in public administration research (Bozeman and Scott,
1992; Jilke et al., 2016a). Experiments in public administration research have
helped us to gain a better understanding of how citizens perceive public perfor-
mance (James, 2011), citizens’ willingness to engage in co-production (Jakobsen,
2013), their intentions to switch public service providers (Jilke et al., 2016b),
or their way of reasoning when judging public programs (James and Van
Ryzin, 2017).
Our paper joins efforts to learn about the behavior of public officials and
administrators (e.g. Bell
e, 2014; Jakobsen and Andersen, 2013; Nielsen and
Baekgaard, 2015; Worthy et al., 2016). Field experiments in particular have
become a popular method of evaluating the prevalence of discriminatory behavior
in the private sector (Darolia et al., 2015; Kaas and Manger, 2012) and by public
officials (Butler and Broockman, 2011; Einstein and Glick, 2016; Ernst et al., 2013;
Grohs et al., 2016; Schram et al., 2009; White et al., 2015). To assess bureaucratic
discrimination based on political beliefs and policy preferences, we focus on an
area in which public opinion continues to be highly polarized and where the
2Public Policy and Administration 0(0)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT