Self-Interest, Ideological/Symbolic Politics, and Citizen Characteristics: A Cross-National Analysis of Support for Privatization


R. Paul Battaglio, Jr., is an assistant professor in the public affairs program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Among his many research interests are public opinion and public policy, privatization, and public human resource management. His work has appeared in Public Administration Review, the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, Public Organization Review, and the Review of Public Personnel Administration.

Jerome S. Legge, Jr., is associate dean of the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, where he is a member of the faculty of Public Administration and Policy. His works on privatization have appeared in a number of journals, including Public Administration Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and Public Organization Review. His collaborators on these works have included Paul Battaglio (University of Texas at Dallas), Robert F. Durant (American University), and Hal G. Rainey (University of Georgia).


In this essay, the authors explore attitudes toward government privatization of electric utilities across two sets of nations: developed market economies (DMEs) and transition economies (TEs). They utilize generalized hierarchical linear model to analyze individual attitudes nested within these two groups of polities and discover a wide gap between the DME and TE nations in terms of preferences for privatization, with attitudes in DME nations being far more favorable. Attitudes toward the privatization of electricity are explained by a combination of ideological/symbolic predispositions, self-interest, and citizen values/characteristics. The most consistent variables in the model are the ideological/symbolic predispositions, while the weakest are citizen characteristics/values. In terms of self-interest, the analysis indicates that those who work for the public service or a public firm are more likely than others to oppose the privatization of electricity. In contrast to some public administration literature that asserts well-informed and interested citizens will oppose privatization, the authors find no convincing relationships. Instead, the most educated and politically efficacious citizens, as well as those who have confidence in the way democracy works within their nation, are more prone than others to support privatization of electricity.