What makes us tolerant of administrative burden? Race, representation, and identity

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Donavon Johnson
Alexander Kroll


Administrative burden, Representative bureaucracy, Identity politics, Experiment


This article connects the literatures of administrative burden with those of representative bureaucracy and group identity. We derive two hypotheses from extant scholarship that, adapted to the case of administrative burden, propose the following: Citizens will be more tolerant of burden if their race identity overlaps with that of the bureaucrat administering the burden, and if potential benefits are targeted at people who are similar to them. Using a survey experiment based on a stratified sample of 465 U.S. residents, we find little support for the hypotheses. In fact, while Black participants barely responded to the treatments at all, we see that white participants were most tolerant of burden when served by a white bureaucrat in a program that benefits Black clients. The article calls for more research on the subject to build nuanced theory, including contextualizing propositions across identity groups and drawing on additional theoretical ideas.