Making the Hard Choice: How Citizens Prioritize Welfare

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - Room 356 (University of Glasgow)
Anthony Kevins , Department of Political Science, Aarhus University
Carsten Jensen , Aarhus University
Kees van Kersbergen , Aarhus University
Alexander Horn , Department of Political Science and Government, Aarhus University
This paper sets out to investigate the commitment of citizens – in particular those in the middle class – to universalism. The ability of universalist programmes to attract and maintain middle-class support has long been touted as one of the strongpoints of universalism. Yet previous work on these attitudes has usually focused on respondent preferences as elicited from direct, isolated questions about social policy preferences. In the real world, however, citizens are often prompted by politicians and the media to make trade-offs between social programmes, and research suggests that forcing respondents to face such trade-offs in survey questions typically elicits dramatically different policy preferences.                       

To address this limitation, we examine original data from ten surveys fielded in the US and Western Europe. In particular, we focus on social policy preferences related to programmes aimed at “deserving” recipients: the sick and the elderly. In doing so, we move from looking at simple, direct questions on preferences related to universalism to analysing more difficult, trade-off based ones. In each instance, we do so in a manner that highlights the effect of income, using questions assessing the relationship between income and benefit access. We then contrast the ways that (a) self-placement on the class and income decile spectrums versus (b) actual income levels appear to shape attitudes. We find that these differences matter, but that they (even alongside a full battery of controls) can only explain a small portion of cross-national differences.

  • Kevins et al.pdf (476.9 kB)