Two-track public services? A longitudinal empirical perspective on tensions between democratic equity and liberalisation of public services
09 / 2010 - 02 / 2011
Governments' legitimacy to a large extent depends on how citizens perceive equity and performance of public services. We test the assumption that New Public Management-style reforms such as the liberalisation of utilities and other public services have led to a two-track public service. This assumption posits that especially well-educated and wealthy citizens have benefited from liberalisation, because they are able to loudly express voice and exercise choice, while the position of more vulnerable citizens vis-à-vis these services has weakened. If this assumption is correct, we should see divergent public attitudes over time between 'vulnerable' and 'strong' citizens-as-customers. This will be tested by analysing changes in attitudes towards liberalised public services such as gas, water and electricity supply, rail transport and postal services, and drivers of choice and voice behaviour, such as switching services and submitting a complaint. If we see different evolutions in attitudes or reported behaviour over time for different socio-economic groups by comparing early datasets when liberalisation had just started with more recent data, then this provides support for the initial assumption. We propose a 12-year longitudinal analysis on an integrated longitudinal Eurobarometer public opinion dataset, consisting of both standard Eurobarometers and special Eurobarometers focusing on services of general interest, compiled between 1997 and 2009. The analysis in this exploratory project will be limited to the Netherlands. The project contributes to the Omstreden Democratie Programme by focusing on conditions of equal access to public services as a key element of democracy.