Welfare State Politics and Blame Avoidance

Team: Georg Wenzelburger

Project Description:

If politicians decide to take unpopular decisions, like curbing the welfare state, they usually perceive a high risk of being punished at the next election. This sets in motion a dynamic that Paul Pierson, founding father of the “New Politics”-Theory of the welfare state, famously described as follows: “[F]rontal assaults on the welfare state carry tremendous risks. The comtemporary politics of the welfare state is the politics of blame avoidance. Governments confronting the electoral imperatives of modern democracy will undertake retrenchment only when they discover ways to minimize the political costs involved.”

Building on the results obtained by studying the unpopular measures governments implemented in connection with large fiscal adjustments (see: project description on fiscal adjustments), several publications focused more closely on the risk and losses that are connected to unpopular policies and the possible blame avoidance strategies used to cope with these risks. Besides a study that compared dynamics in different subfields of the welfare state that are electorally more or less risky (Zohlnhöfer, Wolf, & Wenzelburger, 2012, 2013), we also looked more closely on pension politics (Wolf, Zohlnhöfer, & Wenzelburger, 2014), questions of measurement of welfare state generosity (Wenzelburger, Zohlnhöfer, & Wolf, 2013) and conceptual weaknesses of the existing literature on blame avoidance (Wenzelburger, 2014). Furthermore, results of an experimental study on how framing strategies affect individual attitudes was published (Wenzelburger & Hörisch, 2016). Clearly, this research is also linked to the current project on welfare state cutbacks and electoral punishment (WSCEP).


Project related publications:

  • Wenzelburger, G. (2014). Blame avoidance, electoral punishment and the perceptions of risk. Journal of European Social Policy, 24:1, 80-91.
  • Wenzelburger, G., & Hörisch, F. (2016). Framing Effects and Comparative Social Policy Reform: Comparing Blame Avoidance Evidence from Two Experiments. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice, 18:2, 157-175.
  • Wenzelburger, G., Zohlnhöfer, R., & Wolf, F. (2013). Implications of dataset choice in comparative welfare state research. Journal of European Public Policy, 20:9, 1229-1250.
  • Wolf, F., Zohlnhöfer, R., & Wenzelburger, G. (2014). The Politics of Public and Private Pension Generosity in Advanced Democracies. Social Policy & Administration, 48:1, 86-106.
  • Zohlnhöfer, R., Wolf, F., & Wenzelburger, G. (2012). Parteien und die Generosität der Altersrenten in Zeiten permanenter Austerität. Swiss Political Science Review, 18:1, 28-53.
  • Zohlnhöfer, R., Wolf, F., & Wenzelburger, G. (2013). Political Parties and Pension Generosity in Times of Permanent Austerity. World Political Science Review, 9:1, 291-318.