The Origins of Sociotropic Policy Preferences

59 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2017 Last revised: 26 Sep 2017

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Roman Liesch

University of St. Gallen

Date Written: September 2017


Economic considerations help explain why voters support some reforms, candidates, and parties while they oppose others. Previous work suggests that these preferences have both egoistic and sociotropic roots. We argue that sociotropic considerations reflect altruistic concerns for the poor and evaluate our argument by designing an experiment that details how a reform affects one's personal income, the average income in the country, and earnings of other individuals belonging to different income groups. The results from a large, population-based sample of American citizens suggest that changes in a country's average income are a significant driver of reform support irrespective of whether an individual personally gains or loses. This sensitivity seems to reflect pro-social concerns about the welfare of those that are worst off.

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 Origins of Sociotropic Policy Preferences (September 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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