Last week, I was invited to give a talk at the Research Colloquium at the Bavarian School of Public Policy of the TU München (Hochschule für Politik). I decided to present a recent paper that grew out of the WSCEP project and demonstrates that voters indeed punish governments for cutting back the welfare state. The paper is a joint piece with Christoph Arndt and Carsten Jensen where we use German micro polling data from Politbarometer-surveys and our manually coded data on welfare state legislation to demonstrate how voters react to welfare state change. In a way, it gives a micro-foundation to our results for UK and Danish data as published in last year’s BJPS-article (Lee et al. 2017). As expected by us (but challenged by other literature, such as Giger and Nelson (2011) on the welfare state or Achen and Bartels (2016) on democracy more generally), voters do indeed “reward” sitting governments for expanding the welfare state with a higher probability to stay with the government (as indicated in polls) and they “punish” them if they cut the welfare state with a higher probability to change their vote intentions from government to opposition in the polling data.
While the general pattern is quite clear, there are still several questions open and the discussion at the Research Seminar very much helped to see where we still have to dig deeper. One issue is the time lag between the legislation and the voter reaction as well as the question how long the effect of reward or punishment actually lasts. In fact, the finding of several studies that there is no systematic punishment of welfare state retrenchment at election day (Giger 2011; Giger and Nelson 2011; Schumacher et al. 2013) can also be explained by the fact that voters simply forget about what happened after a couple of months. Hence, when using polling data we find that voters become annoyed in the short term if their government cuts welfare benefits, but that they forget about this after some time and don’t punish at the ballot box. Another point that came up during the discussion at TUM concerns the reactions of different voter groups, but here the data only allows for a limited inspection of such important questions. At any rate, we will use the comments to revise the paper in the next weeks and will hopefully publish it once it is in adequate shape.
Besides research, the Bavarian School of Public Policy provided an excellent program for me as a speaker with opportunities to connect to colleagues around lunch, dinner and even during breakfast (!) as well as to get in touch with students and doctoral researchers.
Achen, Christopher H., and Larry M. Bartels (2016). Democracy for Realists. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Giger, Nathalie (2011). The risk of social policy? : the electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment and social policy performance in OECD countries. London Routledge
Giger, Nathalie, and Moira Nelson (2011). “The electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment: Blame avoidance or credit claiming in the era of permanent austerity?”, European Journal of Political Research, 50:1, 1-23.
Lee, Seonghui, Carsten Jensen, Christoph Arndt and Georg Wenzelburger (2017). “Risky Business? Welfare State Reforms and Government Support in Britain and Denmark”, British Journal of Political Science, 1-20.
Schumacher, Gijs, Barbara Vis and Kees van Kersbergen (2013). “Political parties’ welfare image, electoral punishment and welfare state retrenchment”, Comparative European Politics, 11:1, 1-21.