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The Political Dynamics of Bureaucratic Turnover

  • Carl Dahlström and Mikael Holmgren

This Research Note explores the political dynamics of bureaucratic turnover. It argues that changes in a government’s policy objectives can shift both political screening strategies and bureaucratic selection strategies, which produces turnover of agency personnel. To buttress this conjecture, it analyzes a unique dataset tracing the careers of all agency heads in the Swedish executive bureaucracy between 1960 and 2014. It shows that, despite serving on fixed terms and with constitutionally protected decision-making powers, Swedish agency heads are considerably more likely to leave their posts following partisan shifts in government. The note concludes that, even in institutional systems seemingly designed to insulate bureaucratic expertise from political control, partisan politics can shape the composition of agency personnel.

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Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg (email:; Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg (email: Support for this research was provided by the Swedish Research Council (as part of the ‘Politics of administrative design: partisan conflict and bureaucratic discretion in Sweden 1960–2010’ project). We thank Christian Björkdahl and Pär Åberg for their excellent research assistance, and Julia Fleischer, Oliver James, David Lewis, Johannes Lindvall, Martin Lodge, Birgitta Niklasson, Jon Pierre, Jon Polk, Marina Povitkina, Anders Sundell, the editor, three anonymous reviewers, and many others for their help and comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Finally, we owe special thanks to the Quality of Government Institute at the Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg. Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at: and online appendices are available at

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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