The Insecure American: Economic Experiences, Financial Worries, and Policy Attitudes

Perspectives on Politics, 11, No. 1 (2013): 23-49

Posted: 24 Apr 2013

See all articles by Jacob S. Hacker

Jacob S. Hacker

Yale University - Department of Political Science; Yale University - Institution for Social and Policy Studies

Philipp Rehm

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science

Mark Schlesinger

Yale University - School of Medicine

Date Written: April 23, 2013

Abstract

Even before the sharp downturn that began in 2007, many Americans were concerned about economic risks. Yet this widespread public concern has not been matched by attention from political scientists regarding how citizens experience and understand the economic risks they face or how those experiences and understandings shape their views of public policy. We develop here an argument about the role of personal economic experiences in the formation of policy attitudes that we validate using a distinctive opinion survey of our own design, fielded not long after the onset of the Great Recession. The survey tracks citizens' economic experiences, expectations, and policy attitudes within multiple domains of risk (employment, medical care, family, and wealth arrangements). These investigations show that economic insecurity systematically and substantially affects citizens' attitudes toward government's role. Citizens' economic worries largely track exposure to substantial economic shocks. Citizens' policy attitudes in turn appear highly responsive to economic worries, as well as to the experience of economic shocks — with worries and shocks creating greater support for government policies that buffer the relevant economic risk. Attitudes seem most affected by temporally proximate shocks, shocks befalling households that have weak private safety nets, and shocks occurring within the domain most relevant to the policy in question, though attitudes are also (more weakly) correlated with shocks in other domains. The magnitude of these associations rivals partisanship and ideology and almost always exceeds that for conventional measures of socio-economic status. Given the long-term increase in economic insecurity and current sluggish recovery, understanding how insecurity shapes citizens' policy attitudes and political behavior should be a major concern of political science.

Keywords: economic insecurity

Suggested Citation

Hacker, Jacob S. and Rehm, Philipp and Schlesinger, Mark, The Insecure American: Economic Experiences, Financial Worries, and Policy Attitudes (April 23, 2013). Perspectives on Politics, 11, No. 1 (2013): 23-49. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2255703

Jacob S. Hacker (Contact Author)

Yale University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Box 208269
New Haven, DC 06520-8269
United States

HOME PAGE: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jhacker

Yale University - Institution for Social and Policy Studies ( email )

89 Trumbull Street
New Haven, CT 06515
United States

Philipp Rehm

Ohio State University (OSU) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Mark Schlesinger

Yale University - School of Medicine ( email )

Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
60 College Street, P.O. Box 208034
New Haven, CT 06520-8034
United States
203-785-4619 (Phone)
203-785-6287 (Fax)

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