Research note. The impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction

Research note by Lars Tummers

Red tape is one of the most often-mentioned nuisances of citizens about government. However, there is a dearth in red tape research focusing on citizens. Therefore, our first goal was to study the effects of red tape on citizen satisfaction. Next to this, we studied which other individual factors may change this relationship. To reach these two goals, we designed an experiment in which 179 subjects participated. Experiments are still relatively rare in public administration, but are increasingly seen as a rigorous and useful method for theory testing and development. Our main conclusions are:

  1. Red tape has a strong negative effect on citizen satisfaction
  2. This effect is weaker when citizens have high knowledge of political processes.



1. Negative impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction

The figure below compares the control and treatment group on their degree of citizen satisfaction. Figure 2 shows that the degree of citizen satisfaction is lower when citizens are confronted with high red tape (citizen satisfaction 4.87 vs. 6.08). This is statistically significant (F=26.989, p<.01), thereby providing support for our first hypothesis: red tape negatively affects citizen satisfaction.


2. Negative impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction is lower for people with high knowledge of political processes

We furthermore expected that the impact of red tape on citizen satisfaction is weaker for people with high-perceived knowledge of political processes. The results indicate that the interaction effect is indeed present (β=.137, p<.05). This is shown below. It can be seen that in the low red tape situation, both people who have a high knowledge of politics and those with low knowledge are quite satisfied. In the high red tape situation, both are less satisfied. However, people having low knowledge become increasingly dissatisfied when confronted with red tape: their line drops far quicker than for people with low knowledge of politics.

We expected this because people who already (think) they know a lot about politics will relate their experience with red tape to this knowledge. As a result, they will not easily be surprised. They will have more stable thoughts towards government. On the other hand, if people have little knowledge they are more likely to be more easily influenced.

Negative impact of red tape is lower for people who have high knowledge of political processes.





Lars Tummers is an Associate Professor in Public Management and Public Policy at the Erasmus University Rotterdam and a Research Fellow at Arizona State University.

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