This project analyzes two sets of political orientations that help reveal if the policies and politics of mature welfare states enjoy popular legitimacy. One is "welfare state support", for example attitudes to government redistribution to groups in society (for example to "the old", to "the unemployed", or to various immigrant groups). The other orientation is "political trust"; this can mean satisfaction with democratic processes and trustworthiness of politicians and societal "elites".
We investigate how welfare state support and political trust depend on citizens' evaluations of "welfare state performance." Three such evaluations are considered. One is "outcomes" (how good public services and social protection are perceived to be). The second dimension is "procedural fairness" in welfare delivery (if people feel they are treated with dignity and respect, if authorities are seen as impartial, and if people can exercise influence and express views to public employees). The third dimension is "sustainability", i.e. beliefs about whether the state can afford to maintain services and benefits given fiscal challenges.
The project also investigates how these evaluations operate together with economic and cultural divisions in society. Perhaps culturally and economically alienating experiences fail to produce anti-system political responses as long as welfare state performance is perceived as adequate? Finally, the project studies factors that may explain why people evaluate performance in different ways, especially how are these affected by public sphere information emanating from different political parties and politicians. The project will collect a mix of experimental, longitudinal, and comparative data to answer these questions.
A number of research results from the first project year can be mentioned. Two articles address project questions concerning the role of outcomes versus procedural fairness in opinion formation. For example, De Blok and Kumlin (2021) assess the procedural fairness argument that citizens are not only concerned with welfare state outcomes but also assess the fairness of the processes of service delivery. The fairness perspective has usually been tested in so-called cross-sectional studies. By contrast, we use "longitudinal" over-time panel data on evaluations and experiences with welfare state institutions. The articles finds that both outputs (service quality satisfaction) and procedural fairness (experienced voice opportunities) affect political trust. Crucially, however, perceived fairness mitigates detrimental effects of poor outcomes. This is because procedural voice matters, especially for the formation of political trust among those dissatisfied with outcomes. In a similar vein, Tóth, Nemcok, and Spác (2021) study how voters perceive the use of "pork-barrel" politics, i.e. how political parties and candidates intentionally bias money distribution in accordance with their political aims in order to affect electoral behavior. Two survey experiments randomized exposure to fairness of the distribution and profit for the country. The suggest that once voters realize their profit from pork-barrel politics, they are less critical of unfair distributions of resources and the responsible decision-maker.
A further paper (Goubin and Kumlin 2021, conditionally accepted) illustrate the how the project studies the effects of political trust on support for the welfare state. Specifically, we study two possible effects. First, trust may buttress normative support, as measured by well-known items on general support for redistribution and "government responsibility" in specific areas. Second, political trust may ease concrete reform acceptance in the context of fiscal pressure. We analyse "longitudinal" data in a field dominated by cross-sectional analysis. The data offer standard measures of trust and support, and a newly developed multidimensional question battery tapping reform acceptance. We find cross-sectional as well as longitudinal support for hypotheses predicting that political trust buttresses normative support for redistribution to the unemployed and the poor (but has no effect on support for redistribution to the old). By contrast, there is some but clearly less support for political trust effects on reform acceptance.
This project analyzes two sets of political orientations that together help reveal if the policies and politics of mature welfare states enjoy popular legitimacy. One is "welfare state support", i.e. general support for redistribution and specific support for key welfare policy areas/groups. This group of variables also includes "welfare nationalism," i.e. support for welfare benefits/services used by non-nationals and ethnic minorities. Second, we study "political trust"; this involves generalized satisfaction with the functioning of democratic institutions and the general trustworthiness of politicians and societal "elites."
The project's explanatory factors are united by the idea of "policy feedback," under which political orientations not only shape public policy but where policy, once in place, also impacts on orientations. This happens through the policy information individuals receive and the subjective evaluations of policy "performance" that arise as a result. Crucial examples of evaluative dimensions include service/benefit quality, procedural fairness in service delivery, and beliefs about the fiscal sustainability of welfare state spending. Using state of the art experimental, longitudinal, and comparative research designs, this project will analyze the informational underpinnings of welfare state evaluations and their consequences for welfare state support and political trust. The project also investigates how welfare state evaluations moderate the political effects of socio-economic and cultural divisions in society. In fact, both public discourse and political behaviour research is now impregnated by a debate over whether "economic" or "cultural" factors best explain political orientations in general, and the rise of the populist right in particular. A unique contribution of ours is to integrate the notion of welfare state related policy feedback into these debates.