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Speaking in Two Voices: American Equivocation about the Internal Revenue Service

R. Michael Alvarez and John Brehm
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 418-452
DOI: 10.2307/2991765
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2991765
Page Count: 35
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Speaking in Two Voices: American Equivocation about the Internal Revenue Service
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Abstract

Theory: The exploration of American attitudes towards the Internal Revenue Service joins an unusual pair of research domains: public opinion and public administration. Public administration scholars contend that the hostility Americans show towards "bureaucracy" stems from the competing expectations Americans have for bureaucratic performance. The question explored here is whether these competing expectations surface in the minds of individual respondents as problems of ambivalence, uncertainty, or equivocation. Hypotheses: If respondents are ambivalent about bureaucracy, then coincident expectations about bureaucracy and lack of information about the particular bureaucracy should increase the variability of individual beliefs about the performance of the bureaucracy in question. Methods: We draw upon a survey commissioned by the IRS and conducted in 1987 just after the passage of the Tax Reform Act and explore attitudes towards the performance of the IRS in eight categories. To test our hypotheses we use heteroskedastic ordinal probit. Results: We demonstrate (1) it is overwhelmingly the expectation of responsiveness that governs attitudes towards the IRS while expectations of fairness and honesty play much weaker roles; (2) coincident expectations of responsiveness and honesty produce equivocation in attitudes about the IRS; and (3) chronic information, but not domain-specific information, modestly focuses respondent attitudes towards bureaucracy.

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