Home » » Failing the Test: The Countervailing Attitudinal Effects of Civil Service Examinations
I surveyed the universe of recent applicants to the Indonesian civil service to study the effects of high-stakes examinations on political attitudes. Leveraging applicants’ scores on the civil service examination, I employ a regression discontinuity design to compare the attitudes of applicants who narrowly failed with those who narrowly passed. I show that the simple fact of failure on the civil service examination decreased applicants’ belief in the legitimacy of the process and levels of national identification while increasing support for in-group preferentialism. Next, I find that applicants who were offered—and accepted—employment in the civil service reported higher satisfaction with the process, greater amity toward out-groups, and higher national identification. Because more applicants fail than pass, these results suggest that civil service examination outcomes may have unintended consequences for social cohesion—particularly in contexts where successful applicants disproportionately hail from specific ethnic, racial, or religious groups.