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Authoritarian populism at the frontline of public services.

Grant number: 23/06781-6
Support Opportunities:Regular Research Grants
Duration: December 01, 2023 - November 30, 2025
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Political Science - Public Policies
Principal Investigator:Gabriela Spanghero Lotta
Grantee:Gabriela Spanghero Lotta
Host Institution: Escola de Administração de Empresas (EAESP). Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated researchers: Giordano Morangueira Magri ; Juliana Rocha Miranda ; Mariana Costa Silveira


Numerous countries across the globe have witnessed processes of democratic backsliding produced by authoritarian populist leaders who, upon assuming power, undermine institutions and bureaucracy. While many scholars have examined the reactions of high and mid-level bureaucrats to this phenomenon, there has been a dearth of studies analyzing its impact on street-level bureaucrats. Street-level bureaucrats play a crucial role in implementing public policies, making them indispensable for authoritarian populist rulers who depend on them to secure popularity and enforce their agenda. Simultaneously, street-level bureaucrats, like their bureaucratic counterparts, possess the ability to erect obstacles to these rulers' agendas. Thus, comprehending the dynamics of this relationship, the strategies employed by government officials to co-opt or hinder barriers, and the reactions of street-level bureaucrats within this process becomes imperative for understanding public administration in contexts characterized by democratic weakening.This research aims to contribute to our understanding of how authoritarian populists engage with and influence the performance of street-level bureaucrats. Specifically, we will explore how the politicized environment affects the perception and behavior of street-level bureaucrats in delivering public services. Our investigation will focus on three public policies during the Bolsonaro government that experienced politicization: the Covid-19 vaccination campaign (involving health professionals), human rights policies in schools (involving teachers), and policies addressing violence in the school environment (involving municipal guards). To achieve this, we will employ two mixed methodological strategies. Firstly, we will conduct exploratory interviews with professionals involved in these policies, working across territories characterized by high, medium, and low levels of political polarization. Secondly, we will employ an experimental survey.During the initial stage, we will gather exploratory insights regarding how the politicized context and actions of the president have influenced street-level bureaucrats' perceptions of their work and behavior. Building on these interviews, we will design the survey and experiment to test hypotheses related to four variables supported by existing literature: degree of professionalism, organizational autonomy, bureaucratic vocation, and degree of community belonging (embeddedness). The findings from this research will contribute theoretically to studies on democratic backsliding and street-level bureaucracy. Moreover, it will enhance our understanding of the politicization of bureaucracy and populism. Empirically, this research will shed light on strategies and mechanisms that can bolster the performance of street-level bureaucrats in the face of populism and authoritarianism.Apart from producing articles for national and international journals, this research will actively contribute to public discourse, influence national agendas, and elevate Brazilian research within international forums. (AU)

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