This chapter investigates how popular perceptions of welfare state consequences have changed in the context of the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath. In the wake of the crisis, unemployment rates flared up across Europe. Furthermore, the economic crisis elicited varied policy responses. According to previous research, precisely these contextual factors have the power to affect popular perceptions of welfare consequences. High unemployment rates tend to stimulate concerns for a negative impact of welfare redistribution on economic performance. Social expenditure, conversely, seems to reinforce positive social as well as negative moral and economic perceptions. Therefore, one could expect that the context of crisis has stirred up welfare criticism and eroded positive appraisals of the welfare state. To test these expectations, we analyse how perceptions of economic, moral and social consequences have evolved between 2008 and 2016. Besides mapping aggregate trends, we investigate how individual as well as contextual characteristics affect attitude change.
Tijs Laenen and Bart Meuleman
Chapter 4 argues that there are sound theoretical and methodological reasons to reassess the pervasive idea that most citizens, across geographical, temporal and social-structural boundaries, prefer the old over the sick and the sick over the unemployed when it comes to social welfare. Based on data from the International Social Survey Programme, the main conclusion is that Richard Coughlin’s ‘universal dimension of support’ is less universal as was generally assumed in the literature. Not only did we find a substantial number of welfare egalitarians, who chose not to differentiate between the old, sick and unemployed, the likelihood of ranking the old and sick higher than the unemployed also proved to be contingent on the country in which one lives, the year in which one was questioned and, above all, the social-structural groups one belongs to. However, among those who did discriminate between the groups, the majority gave lowest priority to the unemployed.
Tijs Laenen and Bart Meuleman
Chapter 5 examines popular attitudes towards the social rights (i.e., welfare generosity) and social obligations (i.e., welfare conditionality) of the unemployed. Using Belgian survey data, the chapter concludes that generosity and conditionality appear to be two sides of the same coin because the two factors are negatively correlated, and because most of their respective attitudinal drivers are quite similar in strength, yet opposite in direction. Furthermore, it is shown that, in addition to self-interest and conventionally recognized ideational beliefs such as egalitarianism and individualism, popular deservingness beliefs – measured here in a quite novel way – are particularly influential in shaping people’s welfare preferences. A stronger emphasis on criteria of deservingness such as control, attitude and reciprocity considerably lowers support for social rights and strengthens support for social duties.
Bart Meuleman and Heejung Chung
Bart Meuleman, Wim van Oorschot and Tijs Laenen
This chapter explains how and why the book takes advantage of the availability of the two waves of the ESS to shed light on the question of how public opinion on European welfare states and social policies has developed between 2008 (the year of the banking crisis, coinciding with the year in which the first welfare attitudes module of the ESS was fielded) and 2016 (the year in which the repeat module was fielded). First, we discuss the central findings of analyses of the 2008 data to set a frame of reference for what may be gained by comparing the data from 2008 and 2016. After that, we briefly introduce the contents of the different chapters, and explain which particular social issues and research questions they address.