Political Behavior

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 223–258 | Cite as

Reaching Out or Pulling Back: Macroeconomic Conditions and Public Support for Social Welfare Spending

Original Paper


In economic hard-times, do Americans call for increases in governmental assistance, or do they clamor for declines in government assistance? We address this question by identifying the impact of state-level macroeconomic conditions on public support for social welfare spending. We analyze individual-level data from the 1984–2000 National Election Studies, combined with state-level macroeconomic indicators of inflation, unemployment, and productivity. We find that state-level inflation, not state-level unemployment nor state-level productivity, consistently and consequentially shapes citizens’ support for social welfare. With rising inflation, Americans become more supportive of means-tested social welfare spending. Our analyses generally reaffirm the value Americans place on the social welfare safety net, especially during times of economic duress. When the going gets tough, Americans reach out, rather than pull back.


Public opinion Welfare Inflation Unemployment Economic conditions 



We are grateful to Rebecca Blank, Sheldon Danziger, Paul Goren, Vincent Hutchings, John Scott, and attendees at the National Poverty Center Conference for Small Grant Recipients for valuable advice. We thank Emerald Nguyen, Carl Palmer, and Jeremy Poryes for research assistance. This work has been supported in part by a Small Research Grant from the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.George Warren Brown School of Social WorkWashington UniversitySt. LouisUSA

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