Do Means of Program Delivery and Distributional Consequences Affect Policy Support? Experimental Evidence About the Sources of Citizens’ Policy Opinions

  • Vivekinan L. Ashok
  • Gregory A. HuberEmail author
Original Paper


Recent scholarship argues that citizens’ support for specific government programs in the United States is affected by the means through which benefits are delivered as well as the distributional consequences of these policies. In this paper, we extend this literature in two ways through a series of novel survey experiments, deployed on a nationally representative sample. First, we directly examine differences in public support for prospective government spending when manipulating the mode of delivery. Second, we examine whether information about the distributional consequences of two existing government programs affects their popularity. We find that citizens have a preference for indirect spending that is independent of the distributional consequences of a given policy and identify mechanisms that may explain this view. Furthermore, we find little evidence that highlighting the regressive effects of current government programs significantly reduces the demand for their policy benefits. Our findings have implications for understanding the political calculus of policy design and the potential for public persuasion.


Government spending Public opinion Policy design 



We thank Sarah Anzia, Christopher Berry, Natália S. Bueno, Alan Gerber, Jacob Hacker, John Henderson, Reuben Kline, Nolan McCarty, Patrick Tucker, Ebonya Washington, the three anonymous reviewers of this article and seminar participants at Yale University, the 2018 Emory University Conference on Institutions and Law Making, the 2018 New York University CESS Experimental Political Science Conference, and the 2017 American Political Science Association annual meeting for helpful comments and advice.

Supplementary material

11109_2019_9534_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (416 kb)
Electronic supplementary material 1 (PDF 416 kb)


  1. Applebaum, L. D. (2001). The influence of perceived deservingness on policy decisions regarding aid to the poor. Political Psychology, 22(3), 419–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arnold, R. D. (1992). The logic of congressional action. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Battaglia, M. P., Hoaglin, D. C., & Frankel, M. R. (2009). Practical considerations in raking survey data. Survey Practice, 2(5), 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benjamini, Y., & Hochberg, Y. (1995). Controlling the false discovery rate: A practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B (Statistical Methodology), 57(1), 289–300.Google Scholar
  5. Berinsky, A. J., Huber, G. A., & Lenz, G. S. (2012). Evaluating online labor markets for experimental research:’s Mechanical Turk. Political Analysis, 20(03), 351–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Campbell, A. L. (2003). How policies make citizens: Senior political activism and the American welfare state. Princeton studies in American politics: Historical, international and comparative perspectives. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Charness, G., Gneezy, U., & Kuhn, M. A. (2012). Experimental methods: Between-subject and within-subject design. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 81(1), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dunning, T. (2012). Natural experiments in the social sciences: A design-based approach. Strategies for social inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ellis, C., & Stimson, J. A. (2012). Ideology in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Faricy, C., & Ellis, C. (2013). Public attitudes toward social spending in the United States: The differences between direct spending and tax expenditures. Political Behavior, 36(1), 53–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Franco, A., Malhotra, N., Simonovits, G., & Zigerell, L. J. (2017). Developing standards for post-hoc weighting in population-based survey experiments. Journal of Experimental Political Science, 4(2), 161–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gerber, A. S., & Huber, G. A. (2009). Partisanship and economic behavior: Do partisan differences in economic forecasts predict real economic behavior? American Political Science Review, 103(03), 407–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gilens, M. (1999). Why Americans hate welfare. Race, media, and the politics of antipoverty policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gilens, M. (2009). Preference gaps and inequality in representation. Political Science & Politics, 42(02), 335–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hacker, J. S., & Pierson, P. (2010). Winner-take-all politics. How Washington made the rich richer-and turned its back on the middle class. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  16. Hacker, J. S., & Pierson, P. (2017). American amnesia. How the war on government led us to forget what made America prosper. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  17. Haselswerdt, J., & Bartels, B. L. (2015). Public opinion, policy tools, and the status quo: Evidence from a survey experiment. Political Research Quarterly, 68(3), 607–621.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Henry, P. J., Reyna, C., & Weiner, B. (2004). Hate welfare but help the poor: How the attributional content of stereotypes explains the paradox of reactions to the destitute in America. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34(1), 34–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hetherington, M. J. (2005). Why trust matters. Declining political trust and the demise of American liberalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hetherington, M. J., & Rudolph, T. J. (2008). Priming, performance, and the dynamics of political trust. The Journal of Politics, 70(2), 498–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Howard, C. (2007). The welfare state nobody knows: Debunking myths about U.S. social policy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Jacoby, W. G. (1994). Public attitudes toward government spending. American Journal of Political Science, 38(2), 336–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuziemko, I., Norton, M. I., Saez, E., & Stantcheva, S. (2015). How elastic are preferences for redistribution? Evidence from randomized survey experiments. The American Economic Review, 105(4), 1478–1508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Margolis, M. F., & Sances, M. W. (2016). Partisan differences in nonpartisan activity: The case of charitable giving. Political Behavior, 39(4), 839–864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McCarty, N., Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (2016). Polarized America. The dance of ideology and unequal riches. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Mettler, S. (2011). The submerged state: How invisible government policies undermine American democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Miratrix, L. W., Sekhon, J. S., Theodoridis, A. G., & Campos, L. F. (2018). Worth weighting? How to think about and use weights in survey experiments. Political Analysis, 26(03), 275–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Morgan, K. J., & Campbell, A. L. (2011). The delegated welfare state: Medicare, markets, and the governance of social policy. Studies in postwar American political development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Oliver, J. E., Wood, T., & Bass, A. (2015). Liberellas versus konservatives: Social status, ideology, and birth names in the United States. Political Behavior, 38(1), 1–27.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GovernmentCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Institution for Social and Policy StudiesNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations