Asking about welfare priorities: attitudinal constraint in social policy preferences

Macarena Ares (Universitat de Zurich)
28th of Novembre, 13:00h
Sala de Juntes 
de la Facultat de Ciències Polítiques i Sociologia de la UAB.
New research in welfare politics and, particularly, on public opinion towards social policies has implemented new survey items that measure citizens’ preferences on increasingly specific and concrete policy issues. In our own project, we set out to measure citizens’ welfare priorities, a concept and operationalization that takes into account the multidimensionality and inherent tradeoffs in welfare reform. Yet, even if measures have become increasingly concrete and complex, there is little evidence of whether people hold such specific and structured attitudes towards welfare policies. In fact, different seminal contributions to the public opinion literature would argue that respondents tend to show little structure in their preferences. Relying on novel data inquiring about citizens’ priorities in eight West European countries, we show that respondents hold consistent and structured welfare belief systems, even when we confront them with rather complex rating tasks or with explicit tradeoffs. These results lend support to the recent effort of devising more fine-grained measures of public opinion on welfare policies. Moreover, we also study individual heterogeneity and show that social policy constraint is associated to socio-demographic factors like age, gender, political interest or educational attainment – all of which also extensively related to differences in political knowledge and sophistication.