The Economic Origins of Policy Preferences

70 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2017 Last revised: 28 Apr 2019

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Roman Liesch

University of St. Gallen

Date Written: September 1, 2017


The economic effects of policy options help explain why voters support some reforms while they oppose others. However, disentangling the egoistic and sociotropic origins of voter preferences has proven difficult. We conduct a survey experiment that details how a reform affects one's personal income, the average income in the country, and different income groups. The results suggest that the effects of personal income changes on reform support are about twice the size of changes in a country's income average. Voters specifically care about how reforms impact the poor and this pro-social concern does neither depend on their own income nor on how a policy will affect them personally. We find that these patterns characterize how voters evaluate the redistributive effects of generic economic policies, health care reforms, trade policy decisions, and the policy platforms of candidates running for office.

Keywords: Redistribution, Economic Policy, Individual Preferences, Self-Interest, Sociotropic Concerns, Altruism, Reforms, Survey Experiment, Conjoint Design

JEL Classification: D03, D6, C83, C90

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Liesch, Roman, The Economic Origins of Policy Preferences (September 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Roman Liesch

University of St. Gallen ( email )

Bodanstrasse 8
St.Gallen, CH-9000

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