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Welfare state politics under pressure: Identifying priorities, trade-offs and reform opportunities among citizens, political and economic elites

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - WELFAREPRIORITIES (Welfare state politics under pressure: Identifying priorities, trade-offs and reform opportunities among citizens, political and economic elites)

Período documentado: 2022-03-01 hasta 2023-02-28

In times of austerity, the politics of the welfare state involve tough choices and even trade-offs: whose risks should benefit from social solidarity in a context of shrinking resources? Should the welfare state prioritize the needs of the elderly or those of the young? Those of people in the workforce or outside of the workforce? Of natives or of immigrants?
How countries answer these key questions depends on welfare state priorities. However, we know still very little about these priorities and their determinants, and we know even less about the mechanisms that foster support for social solidarity – i.e. support for inclusive social security beyond self-interest. This project made use of a diverse set of methods and research designs to investigate these priorities and mechanisms.
In the first phase, we used large-scale observational and experimental survey research, as well as content coding of party manifestos to identify the most salient distributive conflicts and welfare trade-offs in eight European countries. We also conducte experimental surveys during the Covid Pandemic to estimate the impact of the economic and health shock on welfare priorities. In 17 studies (8 of them already out in peer-reviewed journals and presses, the rest under review or in progress) 5 working papers and 2 PhD dissertations, we were able to show that only if we include priorities in our conceptualization of welfare politics do we see the current conflict configuration. The most salient divides are along class lines, along education and along socio-cultural values (universalism-particularism) and refer to strikingly different priorities regarding social consumption vs. social investment; universalistic vs. means-tested, poverty-oriented policies; as well as inclusion or exclusion of migrants and other new risk groups.
The objective of the second phase of the project has been to go beyond conflict towards coalitions. It combined surveys, content analysis and case studies to identify the factors that foster support for social policies among those actors who are unlikely to benefit directly from these policies. Our findings show that policy frames geared towards recognition, dignity and deservingness are more effective in fostering alliances than traditional solidaristic or ideological frames. We also test – experimentally - how appeals to investive policies, social recognition and societal goals fosters support for employment-oriented policy reforms. The analyses of this second part will be published over the coming months.
Work performed and results:
- WP1: qualitative reporting of welfare reform politics in all 8 countries under study for the time period 2015-2019
- WP2: A quantitative public opinion survey 2018 in all 8 countries; ad hoc survey on social policy attitudes in the Coronoavirus- pandemic in spring 2020; follow-up survey in 4 countries to identify mechanisms and robustness in 2021;
- WP3: A quantitative elite survey among members of parliament in all 8 countries, Interviews with elite actors in all 8 countries. Complemented with qualitative content analysis of party manifestos.
- WP4: Analyses ,findings, publications (cf. publications and working paper list); see below for exploitation and dissemination. For a summary of the substantive findings, see below (progress and results)
- WP5: coding of reform of the basic pension scheme in Germany to identify policy frames an coalition-building dynamics
- WP6: Observational and experimental survey in 9 countries on determinants of solidarity and drivers of policy support.
- WP7: Analyses ,findings, dissemination: finalization of 2 PhD theses in the project team; book workshop in January 2023 in Zurich, analyses, working papers and conference presentation on the findings of the WP5 and WP6 empirics in 2023/2024.

Exploitation and dissemination (see also the section "publications" for a full list):
- 2 PhD theses completed in 2021
- 17 papers, about half of them published in peer-reviewed journals, half under review;
- 1 book with Oxford University Press, to be published in late 2023
- 3 ongoing working papers based on the most recent data collection, to be presented at conferences and published over the coming 12 months
- Over the project duration: over 50 conference and workshop presentations, invited talks and lectures on the findings of the project at disciplinary international conferences (e.g. ECPR, EPSA, APSA, CES, ECPR Joint sessions, SPSA, etc), research workshops (e.g. at the Universities of Geneva, WIKO Berlin, UA Barcelona, Cologne, Oxford, Edinburgh, etc) and lecture/talk series (e.g. at LSE, Harvard, Sciences Po, Paris Sorbonne, EUI, Frankfurth, Humboldt, Stockholm among others).
- Interviews in press and podcasts about the findings of the project (e.g. in Tagesspiegel, Republik-Magazin, Wochenzeitung, Sciences Stories, The Transformation of European Politics podcast, Deutschlandfunk, die ZEIT, SRF, UZH Magazine, etc.)
Our project has been the first one to deliver reliable data at both citizens' and elite's levels on social policy priorities and divides regarding these priorities. All findings (see publication and dissemination list) are novel and not replicable with existing alternative data sources. In more than 15 studies (8 of them already out in peer-reviewed journals and presses, the rest under review or in progress) and 5 working papers, we were able to show that only if we include priorities in our conceptualization of welfare politics do we see the current conflict configuration around social policy reform. The most salient divides are along class lines, along education and along socio-cultural values (universalism-particularism) and they refer to strikingly different priorities regarding social consumption vs. social investment; universalistic vs. means-tested, poverty-oriented policies; as well as inclusion or exclusion of migrants and other new risk groups. The policy implications are important: behind apparent high levels of support for generous social policies lie deep-rooted conflicts about the relative importance of different social policy (reforms). Citizens and parties are deeply divided about the ways in which governments should allocate scarce resources. Their priorities do not simply depend on left-right or state-market divides, but on conflict over investment-consumption, universalism-particularism and inclusion-exclusion of minorities. Hence, social policy reforms need to foster alliances between electorates and parties along these dimensions.

In the second project phase, our focus has been on mechanisms that foster solidarity, support and alliances in social policy reform processes. Our findings show that policy frames geared towards recognition, dignity and deservingness are more effective in fostering alliances than traditional solidaristic or ideological frames. We also test – experimentally - how appeals to investive policies, social recognition and societal goals fosters support for employment-oriented policy reforms. This second part of the project holds very concrete insights for policy reforms, regarding the effectiveness of different reform frames (deservingness and dignity vs. solidarity) and regarding the specific groups of beneficiarites that respond positively to reform highlighting specific distributive effects, recognition and societal goals (such as fostering equality or fostering equality of opportunity and social mobility).
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