What Makes People Worry about the Welfare State? A Three-Country Experiment
Forthcoming in British Journal of Political Science
39 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2015 Last revised: 21 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 2018
Welfare states are exposed to a host of cost-inducing “reform pressures.” An experiment implemented in Germany, Norway, and Sweden tests how various reform pressure frames matter for perceptions about the future financial sustainability of the welfare state. Such perceptions have been shown to moderate electoral punishment for welfare reform, but we know little about their origins. Hypotheses are formulated in dialogue with newer research on welfare state change, as well as with older theory expecting more stability in policy and attitudes (i.e. the “new politics” framework). Additionally, we consult research drawing on “deservingness theory.” The results suggest large variation in impact across treatments. The most influential path to effective pressure framing is to “zoom in” on specific economic pressure linked to undeserving groups (above all immigration, but also to some extent low employment). Conversely, a message emphasizing pressure linked to a very deserving group (population aging) had little effect. A second conceivable path to pressure framing entails “zooming out,” i.e. making messages span a diverse and more broadly threatening set of challenges. This possibility, however, received weaker support.
Keywords: Welfare state, Framing, Reform pressure, Welfare state sustainability, Blame avoidance
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