Previous research suggests that Europeans want more experts in government, but which experts do they want and why? Using survey data collected in 15 European countries, this study compared citizens’ preferences for high-ranking civil servants, university professors, and business executives over traditional political actors (MPs and former ministers) as ministers in government. Overall, university professors were rated more positively than MPs or former ministers in almost all countries, whereas civil servants and business executives were only rated more positively than politicians in Poland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Ireland, and Belgium.
While political distrust is a key predictor of preferring political outsiders, we also found that civil servants are not as appealing to politically distrusting individuals, depending on the country. Furthermore, while the demand for more expertise in government mainly influences preferences for university professors, the demand for more government by the people is connected to preferences for business executives and (to a lesser extent) civil servants. The latter finding challenges the common distinction between citizen and expert-oriented visions of democracy and the alleged ‘elitist’ underpinnings of empowering non-elected outsiders.