Depth Charges: Does “Deep State” Propagandizing Undermine Bureaucratic Reputations?

Tyler Johnson


In the wake of prominent instances of bureaucratic defiance, supporters of Donald Trump’s presidency have taken to describing said bureaucrats and the departments and agencies they represent as part of a “deep state” seeking to maintain and wield power behind the scenes. Such claims can be understood as an attempt at character assassination with the end goal of undermining the reputations of bureaucracy and bureaucrats alike. Efforts to disseminate this propaganda across varied forms of media have been both sustained and forceful. Do such attempts to shape public opinion lead Americans to think less of prominent agencies, cabinet departments, and their leaders? The author utilizes an original survey experiment to examine if learning about what a deep state is, reading media members debate its reality, or hearing the President’s son declare it to be truth shapes attitudes toward the image of the CIA and the Departments of State, Justice, and Defense. Preliminary results reveal such propagandizing rarely changes how individuals think about bureaucracy. The rare instances in which it does affect attitudes reveal such arguments may be just as likely to improve bureaucratic reputation as they are to diminish it, with presidential approval at times conditioning outcomes.


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ISSN: ISSN 2398-5836

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