The Dog-Whistle Politics of Personal Responsibility, Credit, and the American Welfare State
40 Pages Posted: 6 May 2020 Last revised: 20 Jul 2020
Date Written: July 17, 2020
Personal responsibility is a prominent theme in the politics of the American welfare state. We argue that in a context of easy access to credit, political rhetoric around personal responsibility is coded racial language that resonates with Americans who perceive themselves as no longer needing government support, shifting their support from public to private, credit-based funding of social goods. We support our argument empirically in two ways. First, state-level observational data shows that in states where voters hold stronger personal responsibility norms, easier borrowing conditions are associated with more conservative economic policies. In states with more liberal economic norms, changes in borrowing constraints do not influence policy liberalism. Second, we draw on an original survey to document that beliefs in personal responsibility are tied to racial resentment and interact with perceptions of easy credit access to strengthen support for private instead of public spending on education and unemployment insurance.
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