A key curiosity in the operation of the American regulatory state lies with its hybrid structure, defined by centralized, bureaucratic approaches but also more decentralized actions such as lawsuits brought by private citizens in the courts. While current research on these two pathways focuses at the elite level—exploring how and why political actors and institutions opt for legal or administrative strategies for implementing different public policies—there is little research that examines public attitudes toward how policy is enforced in the U.S. Given that the public is a key partner in this process, this paper integrates public attitudes into the discussion, tapping into conceptions of “big government,” privatization, and the tort reform movement. Using original data from a series of vignette-based experiments included in the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, we examine public preferences about how policy is regulated—by private citizens in the courts or by government officials in agencies—across a broad number of policy areas. We offer one of the first studies that adjudicates the boundaries of public attitudes on litigation and bureaucratic regulation in the U.S., offering implications for how elites might approach the design of policy implementation for different issue areas.
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