Politicians, professionalization and anti-politics: why we want leaders who act like professionals but are paid like amateurs

Paul Fawcett, Jack Corbett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Why are politicians so unpopular? One common explanation blames a professionalized political class that is increasingly detached from ‘ordinary citizens’. But, there is very little empirical investigation of what it is about the professionalization of politics that engenders distrust. This article uses 12 focus groups and 15 interviews with civil servants from the Australian Public Service—‘insiders’ with first-hand knowledge and experience of the political system—to reflect on political professionalization and its impacts. As a group, civil servants’ views on this question remain largely unexplored yet their proximity to the political process gives them a distinct vantage point from which to reflect on current explanations for rising anti-political sentiment. We find both positive and negative attitudes towards professionalization that destabilize prevailing explanations: on the demand side, civil servants share first-hand experience and knowledge of how the political process works but remain cynical about politicians, whilst on the supply side, they value governing competence more than demographic representation yet still want more ‘amateur’ politicians. Our reflections on these findings highlight contradictory expectations: we want politicians who act like professionals, but who are paid like amateurs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)411-432
Number of pages22
JournalPolicy Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Anti-politics
  • Australia
  • Civil servants
  • Politicians
  • Professionalization

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