When less is more: On politicians’ attitudes to remuneration

AuthorLene Holm Pedersen,Yosef Bhatti,Rasmus T. Pedersen
Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
When less is more: On politiciansattitudes to
Lene Holm Pedersen
| Rasmus T. Pedersen
| Yosef Bhatti
Department of Political Science, University of
Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
VIVEThe Danish Center for Social Science
Research, Copenhagen, Denmark
Lene Holm Pedersen, Department of Political
Science, University of Copenhagen, ster
Farimagsgade 5, bygning 4, 1353
København K, Denmark.
Email: lhp@ifs.ku.dk
Funding information
Det Frie Forskningsråd, Grant/Award Number:
While politiciansremuneration is a key issue in the relationship
between citizens and politicians, there is still limited knowledge
about the politiciansown views on this issue. This article investi-
gates how politiciansattitudes regarding pay are affected by their
motivation, political ideology and party position as well as institu-
tional position. Using data from a survey among municipal politi-
cians in Denmark (n= 838), our analyses suggest that politicians
with different levels of extrinsic motivation sort into parties with
different political ideologies. Left-wing politicians express a strong
distaste for high pay, probably for strategic as well as ideological
reasons. In addition, institutional position matters. Chairmen prefer
higher rewards for chairmen, but the backbenchers also prefer
higher rewards for the chairmenif they come from the same
party. The results help us understand why politicians do not neces-
sarily act in line with the fundamental assumption that individuals
prefer more pay to less.
Remuneration of politicians is a key issue in the relationship between citizens and politicians (Dekker 2013), not least
because decisions regarding such remuneration may affect the publics level of trust in the politicians and the political
system (Hood and Peters 1994, ch. 1; Hibbing and Theiss-Morse 2002). Recent empirical studies have investigated
the degree to which levels of pay can affect the recruitment, motivation and performance of politicians (Keane and
Merlo 2010; Hoffman and Lyons 2013; Braendle 2015; Fisman et al. 2015; Carnes and Hansen 2016), and the classi-
cal political thinkers put the question of the size of remuneration at the centre of their thoughts on good
Tocqueville feared that the formal rewards would fall to a point where only the rich could afford to participate
(Tocqueville 2009, p. 403). A central argument is that rewards should provide sufficient alimentation to shield from a
return to aristocracy and corruption (Peters and Hood 1995). This was also a central concern for Weber, who saw
remuneration of politicians as crucial to securing equality in participation and to prevent corruption (Weber 2007).
Representativeness is also a central concern as it is argued that those elected should live on the same income as ordi-
nary citizens in order not to move away from the people (Hood and Peters 1994, p. 222). Bentham (1962 [1843])
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12547
668 © 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm Public Administration. 2018;96:668689.
placed pay and rewards at the centre of his utilitarian philosophy of government, but in contrast he argued that sala-
ries should be set at a level suitable for attracting and retaining the appropriate talentand no more. Furthermore, it
can be argued that rewards should reflect a concern for the market rate for ability (Peters and Hood 1995). Thus,
there is long-lasting divergence in the normative arguments on what the level of pay for politicians should be in order
to secure good governance.
Because politicians have a great deal of autonomy in setting their own wages, one might be tempted to think
that that they would continue to maximize their pay until it takes off into the sky. Elected officials tend to be skilled
at advocacy and bargaining, and they are therefore well situated to secure concentrated benefits for themselves by
diffusing the costs among the public at large (Wilson 1980; Hood and Peters 1994, ch. 1; Mause 2014). However,
this is not often found to be the case, as empirical studies show signs of pay erosion (Peters and Hood 1995; Brans
and Peters 2012). The direct pay of elected officials tends to develop very moderately and in some cases even falls
behind the pay of unelected officials, who should be expected to be less well situated for maximizing their rewards
(Christensen 1994). Politicians seem more able to increase less visible rewards than to increase their direct pay
(Hood 1994; Hood and Peters 1994, ch. 1), even if perks and invisible rewards often cause scandals and distrust in
politicians, which seem out of proportion with the amount at stake (Painter 2003; González-Bailon et al. 2013).
The importance of pay for politicians for good governance and political trust, and the empirical research, which
shows surprising limits of politiciansability to secure the level and type of their pay, make it highly relevant to inves-
tigate the actual attitudes and preferences of the politicians themselves. So far, these have remained largely unex-
plored, probably partly because of the fact that the numbers of politicians in the national assemblies are relatively
limited, because they are difficult to recruit for surveys and because generalizations can be difficult across countries
where the institutional settings vary considerably. In this article, we therefore investigate politiciansattitudes
towards their own pay at the level of local government in Denmark. By moving our study to this level, we are able to
conduct a survey of more than 800 politicians, all placed within similar institutional settings.
Our investigation into the attitudes of local politicians is conducted in the context of a fortuitous case, which
illustrates the need for more knowledge regarding politiciansown attitudes regarding their pay: on 1 January 2017
the mayors in Denmark received a considerable pay rise. Following decades of stagnant mayoral wages, the national
parliament had awarded the mayors of the 98 municipalities in Denmark a 31.4 per cent increase in remuneration.
This rise was also good news for the municipal committee chairs, whose remuneration is capped at a fixed percent-
age of the mayors remuneration. Thus, these committee chairs could also expect an overall 31.4 per cent increase in
remuneration, as long as the municipal council did not, for some reason, decide to vote against the rise. However,
about a quarter of the local councils actually chose to do so.
This case illustrates the need for a better understanding of politiciansattitudes towards their own pay as extant
studies on the levels and consequences of politiciansremuneration are often based on strong assumptions regarding
their motivations; for example, that they prefer more to less(Keane and Merlo 2010; Hoffman and Lyons 2013;
Braendle 2015; Fisman et al. 2015; Carnes and Hansen 2016). This is in contrast to the actual development in pay of
politicians, where the actual pay in many cases tends to decrease over time (Brans and Peters 2012; Lodge 2012).
The more detailed dynamics unfolding in the actual decision-making behind this still need to be uncovered in more
detail, and the article aims to contribute to this.
We base our analysis on survey data of local councillors in Denmark collected during spring 2017 (n= 838). In
this confidential survey, local councillors were specifically asked about their attitudes regarding the increase in sala-
ries for mayors as well as potential increases in remuneration for municipal committee chairs. In addition, the survey
included a host of attitudinal and ideological variables, as well as variables on institutional positions. Using these data,
we contribute to the existing literature by investigating the degree to which politiciansattitudes on their own pay
can be explained through three theoretical perspectives, focusing respectively on (1) the nature of personal motiva-
tion, (2) political ideology and parties, and (3) institutional position.
First, we address the question from the perspective found in the literature on motivational orientations (Perry
and Wise 1990; Deci et al. 1999; Ryan and Deci 2000). Based on this literature, we address the degree to which

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