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Public Service or Propaganda? How Americans Evaluate Political Advocacy by Executive Agencies


Social Science Quarterly

Published online on


--- - |2+ Objective Executive agencies of the federal government frequently engage in explicit political advocacy, exhorting the public to adopt policy positions and engage in political actions. This advocacy conflicts with legal restrictions on unelected bureaucrats. It is unclear what the public thinks of this kind of advocacy. We assess whether Americans judge this advocacy based on principles about acceptable political processes or based on policy goals. Methods We use observational and experimental data from two national surveys of American adults to assess the role of policy preferences in acceptance of political advocacy by executive agencies. Findings We find that Americans approve a broad range of public communications from executive agencies, but approval of political appeals is highly sensitive to whether an individual shares the policy goal of the agency. Conclusions Policy agreement, rather than preferences about process, drives Americans' attitudes toward this kind of advocacy. Americans support political advocacy by executive agencies when it dovetails with their own policy preferences or partisanship and oppose it when these agencies advocate for policies that contradict their own preferences or partisanship. Indeed, they do not draw any distinction between unelected bureaucrats and elected politicians when it comes to evaluating these forms of advocacy. - 'Social Science Quarterly, EarlyView. '