Policy Feedback, Participation, Voting, and Attitudes
Globalization and Welfare series
Edited by Staffan Kumlin and Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen
Chapter 8: Waking up the giant? Hospital closures and electoral punishment in Sweden
Paul Piersonís (1994) influential theory regarding the New Politics of the Welfare State (NP) argues that important parts of the electorate object to welfare retrenchment. This assumption is supported by attitude data that shows large support for social policy (Svallfors 1997, cf. Giger 2011). The theoretical implications are, firstly, that governments will tend to avoid such proposals and, secondly, that if they implement retrenchment anyway, they will typically be punished in the subsequent election. According to Giger (2011, p. 154), however, electoral punishment for welfare retrenchment ëis neither outstandingly harmful nor happening extremely oftení. Gigerís result can however be interpreted in different ways. Do people largely accept retrenchment despite their apparent support for the welfare state? Or would they punish politicians if the conditions were right? This chapter makes several contributions to the research on this topic. The theoretical contribution is to reemphasize that Piersonís conceptualization of retrenchment is relatively demanding and that NP only expects electoral punishment under certain conditions (which are unlikely to occur frequently). The empirical contribution is to show that in a strategically chosen setting, where these conditions are met and where retrenchment has this character, voter punishment indeed occurs. The Swedish electorate, and perhaps other electorates as well, are generally sleeping but not lifeless giants. The giant can be awoken.
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