Sarah Anzia - The Political Influence of City Employees: Civil Service Adoption in America

Sarah Anzia, Professor of Public Policy & Political Science at University of California, Berkeley
Encina Hall West, room 400

At the turn of the 20th century, most cities in America
featured a patronage-based system of governance, but over the next
hundred years, patronage was replaced by civil service. This
fundamental transformation of American government effectively inverted
the principal-agent relationship by granting bureaucrats protections
from sanctioning. Yet in studying this change, scholars have largely
ignored the role that employees themselves might have played. In this
paper, we argue that city employees were important drivers of
municipal civil service adoption. We collected a new dataset for more
than 1,000 municipal governments, determining whether and when they
adopted civil service and whether their employees were organized in an
early occupational organization. We find that cities that had
organized employees were more likely to have adopted civil service by
1940. Our findings thus highlight an underappreciated contributor to
this transformation of government: the political influence of city


Sarah Anzia is a political scientist who studies American politics with a focus on state and local government, elections, interest groups, political parties, and public policy. She is the author of Local Interests: Politics, Policy, and Interest Groups in US City Governments (University of Chicago Press, 2022), which evaluates the political activity of interest groups in US local governments and how interest groups shape local public policies on housing, business tax incentives, policing, and public service provision more broadly.

Her first book, Timing and Turnout: How Off-Cycle Elections Favor Organized Groups (University of Chicago Press, 2014), examines how the timing of elections can be manipulated to affect both voter turnout and the composition of the electorate, which, in turn, affects election outcomes and public policy. She has also written about the political activity and influence of public-sector unions, the politics of public pensions, policy feedback, women in politics, political parties, and the historical development of electoral institutions. Her work has been published in the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, the Journal of Politics, and other scholarly journals. She has a PhD in political science from Stanford University and an MPP from the Harris School at the University of Chicago.