The Great Recession, coupled with concerns over the growing budget deficit, resulted in a renewed debate about the social safety net. While support for welfare benefits usually splits along partisan lines, Yotam Margalit examines how personal experiences of hardship during the financial crisis affected attitudes towards social spending. While he finds that first-hand experience of a job loss does lead to a convergence in the welfare preferences of left and right-leaning voters, the data suggest that the changes in the welfare attitudes of the job losers are fairly short-lived, dissipating soon after they find new employment. Overall, the first four years of the Great Recession are found to have brought about a drop in the public’s support for welfare spending.
The financial crisis of 2008 has had a harrowing impact on the well-being of citizens worldwide. Job dislocations, long spells of unemployment, drops in income, and deep economic uncertainty are only some of the hardships that afflicted millions of families since the beginning of the Great Recession. While governments struggle with growing claims on social protection programs as well as ever-widening budget deficits, the debate about the proper role of government and the desired level of welfare spending has been brought to the fore. What is the overall impact of the financial crisis on the electorate’s attitudes toward social spending? Did the personal experience of hardships affect voters’ support for increased welfare assistance and, if so, how did right-wing voters reconcile their pre-crisis attitudes of opposition to welfare spending with their changing circumstances?
To put this last point in starker terms, consider a hypothetical case of two otherwise similar individuals, one positioned ideologically on the left and the other on the right, who lose their jobs at the same time. Would the same personal predicament lead to a convergence in their policy preferences, whereby the right-leaning individual would become significantly more supportive of welfare assistance, or would their different ideological dispositions yield two distinct responses, in line with their previously held views? Continue reading