Do voters punish the government for welfare state retrenchment? A comparative study of electoral costs associated with social policy

Abstract

This paper studies the claim that social policy retrenchment has tremendous electoral consequences. It analyzes the electoral impact of social policy attitudes in a comparative design (20 elections in Western OECD countries between 2001 and 2006). I find that punishment is conditional on the performance of governments, indicating that people punish or reward a government for its past actions. However, empirical comparison shows this to be true not only for social policy, but for all types of issues. This study shows that social policy does not have the outstanding relevance for voters as assumed by the social policy literature; accordingly, the electoral impact is only limited and not equally strong in all contexts. The context shapes the link between social policy attitudes and vote choice, but the variance in effect strength is not explained by differences in the institutional setting or the campaign saliency of social policy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 4
Figure 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    Only in specific policy areas such as family policy, is expansion still possible.

  2. 2.

    Please note that this discussion is not entirely the same as the one concerning performance versus position issues. Here, we are discussing the specification of the effect, and the options are direct (salience) versus mediated (performance).

  3. 3.

    There is some debate in the literature as to whether self left–right placement is just a different measure for party identification as people could use their party identification to answer the question about their ideological position (Luskin, 1987; Sniderman and Theriault, 2004). However, the author of this study is convinced that the differences between the two measures are larger than such a compensation strategy would imply and thus warrant a separate variable.

  4. 4.

    They list five components: multi-party cabinet, strong committees, bicameral opposition, minority government and weak party cohesion.

  5. 5.

    The index by Nadeau et al (2002) includes the full Powell and Whitten (1993) index as long-term factor. Although Powell and Whitten's original index is an excellent description of the institutional setting of a country, it is rather complex and not likely to be fully understood by the voters.

  6. 6.

    It was assessed whether retrenchment was pursued during the current term of the government.

  7. 7.

    The disadvantage of the CSES data is that the candidate evaluation variable contains a lot of missing values. The missing quote is between 30 per cent and 78 per cent and in some election studies, the variable was not included at all. The author has therefore decided not to include a candidate evaluation variable into the models in order to avoid losing large amount of respondents.

  8. 8.

    The Swiss Election, 2003 is not included in the study, as ‘voting for the government’ is not applicable to the Swiss context (all major parties are represented in the government, which results in more than 80 per cent votes for the government).

  9. 9.

    It can be argued that Japan does not belong to the group of Western welfare states (Goodman and Peng, 1996), but the results remain the same when Japan is excluded. Furthermore, two Portuguese elections are included which could lead to problems of overrepresentation. Excluding one Portuguese case though, did not alter the results presented here.

  10. 10.

    A more refined measure for punishment would be the withdrawal of support for the government between election (t-1) and t. The results obtained with such a dependent variable do not differ substantially from the results presented in this paper.

  11. 11.

    I used the ‘Notes on recent election’ section of Electoral Studies, the regular reports on elections in West European Politics, the European Data Yearbook by the European Journal of Political Research plus the ‘election summary and general notes’ section of the CSES codebook (Appendix 1).

  12. 12.

    A second possibility would have been to take the CSES expert view into account. The CSES database contains a variable with expert judgment of the five most salient factors affecting the outcome of the election. However, these two indicators correlate highly (0.47) indicating that the judgments about issue saliency are very alike. For the purpose of this paper, only results based on the expert notes indicator are provided but the results based on the CSES indicator are very alike.

  13. 13.

    In Bayesian statistics one expresses the uncertainty about a value of a model parameter by assigning to it a probability distribution of possible values (prior distribution). In a second step, the actual computation, one combines the prior information with the likelihood of the data to produce a posterior distribution. The posterior distribution is then used to compute a point estimate and a confidence interval for the unknown parameter. As the posterior distribution is mostly difficult to describe mathematically, simulation procedures (MCMC, especially Gibbs sampling) are used to generate random samples from this complex distribution and to compute point estimates. Here, it becomes clear why Bayesian methods are computationally demanding.

  14. 14.

    These findings are based on separate regressions for each context. The full models are available on request from the author.

  15. 15.

    The rather high number of dissatisfied voters might also be due to the negativity bias of citizens (Lau, 1985).

  16. 16.

    In the sample of this study, we find only three elections where social policy was not a topic at all, in 10 elections it was a somehow important issue and in seven elections social policy was a major issue. A cross table reveals that there is no case where a performance effect is present but social policy has not been a salient topic in the campaign.

References

  1. Aardal, B. and Wijnen, P.v. (2005) Issue voting. In: J. Thomassen (ed.) The European Voter. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 192–212.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aldrich, J.H., Sullivan, J.L. and Borgida, E. (1989) Foreign affairs and issue voting: Do presidential candidates ‘Waltz before a Blind Audience?’ The American Political Science Review 83 (1): 123–141.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Allan, J.P. and Scruggs, L.A. (2004) Political partisanship and welfare state reform in advanced industrial societies. American Journal of Political Science 48 (3): 496–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Alvarez, R.M. and Nagler, J. (1995) Economics, issues and the Perot candidacy: Voter choice in the 1992 presidential election. American Journal of Political Science 39 (3): 714–744.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Alvarez, R.M. and Nagler, J. (1998) Economics, entitlements, and social issues: Voter choice in the 1996 presidential election. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4): 1349–1363.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Anderson, C.D. (2006) Economic voting and multilevel Governance: A comparative individual-level analysis. American Journal of Political Science 50 (2): 449–463.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Anderson, C.J. (1995) The dynamics of public support for coalition governments. Comparative Political Studies 28 (3): 350–383.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Anderson, C.J. (2000) Economic voting and political context: A comparative perspective. Electoral Studies 19 (2–3): 151–170.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Anderson, C.J. (2007) The interaction of structures and voter behavior. In: R. J. Dalton and H. -D. Klingemann (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Political Behavior. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 571–609.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Armingeon, K. and Giger, N. (2008) Conditional punishment. A comparative analysis of the electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment in OECD nations, 1980–2003. West European Politics 31 (3): 558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Armingeon, K., Gerber, M., Leimgruber, P. and Beyeler, M. (2008) Comparative Political Data Set, 1960–2006. Berne, Switzerland: Institute of Political Science, http://www.ipw.unibe.ch/content/team/klaus_armingeon/comparative_political_data_sets/index_ger.html.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Arts, W. and Gelissen, J. (2001) Welfare States, solidarity and justice principles: Does the type really matter? Acta Sociologica 44 (4): 283–299.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Boeri, T., Börsch-Supan, A. and Tabellini, G. (2001) Would you like to shrink the welfare state? A survey of European citizens. Economic Policy 16 (32): 9–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Browne, W.J. (2004) Mcmc Estimation in Mlwin. Version 2.0. London: Centre for Multilevel Modelling, Institute of Education.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Bryk, A.S. and Raudenbush, S.W. (1992) Hierarchical Linear Models. Application and Data Analysis Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Callens, M. and Croux, C. (2005) Performance of likelihood-based estimation methods for multilevel binary regression models. Journal of Statistical Computation and Simulation 75 (12): 1003–1017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Campbell, A., Converse, P.E., Miller, W.E. and Stokes, D. (1960) The American Voter. New York: John Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Clarke, H.D., Sanders, D., Stewart, M.C. and Whiteley, P. (2004) Political Choice in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dealing, J. and Rogers, E. (1996) Agenda-Setting. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Deth, J.v. and Geurts, P. (1989) Value orientation, left–right placement and voting. European Journal of Political Research 17 (1): 17–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dorussen, H. and Taylor, M. (2001) The political context of issue-priority voting: Coalitions and economic voting in the Netherlands, 1970–1999. Electoral Studies 20 (3): 399–426.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Downs, A. (1957) An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Eijk, C.v.d., Schmitt, H. and Binder, T. (2005) Left–right orientations and party choice. In: J. Thomassen (ed.) The European Voter. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 167–191.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Fazio, R.H. (1986) How do attitudes guide behavior? In: R. M. Sorrentino and E. T. Higgins (eds.) Handbook of Motivation and Cognition. Foundations of Social Behavior. New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 204–243.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Fazio, R.H. (1989) On the power and functionality of attitudes: The role of attitude accessibility. In: A. R. Pratkanis, S. J. Breckler and A. G. Greenwald (eds.) Attitude Structure and Function. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, pp. 153–179.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Fiorina, M.P. (1981) Retrospective Voting in American National Elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Fournier, P., Blais, A., Nadeau, R., Gidengil, E. and Nevitte, N. (2003) Issue importance and performance voting. Political Behavior 25 (1): 51–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Gelissen, J. (2000) Popular support for institutionalized solidarity: A comparison between European welfare states. International Journal of Social Welfare 9 (4): 285–300.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Gelman, A. and Hill, J. (2007) Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. New York: Cambrigde University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Gill, J. (2002) Bayesian Methods: A Social and Behavioral Sciences Approach. Boca Raton, FL: Chapman & Hall/CRC.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Goldstein, H. (1999) Multilevel Statistical Models. London: Arnold Publisher.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Goodman, R. and Peng, I. (1996) East Asian welfare states. In: G. Esping-Andersen (ed.) Welfare States in Transition. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Green-Pedersen, C. (2002) The Politics of Justification. Party Competition and Welfare-State Retrenchment in Denmark and the Netherlands from 1982 to 1998. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Amsterdam University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Green-Pedersen, C. and Haverland, M. (2002) The new politics and scholarship of the welfare state. Journal of European Social Policy 12 (1): 43–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Hart, R.A. and Clark, D.H. (1999) Does Size Matter? Exploring the Small Sample Properties of Maximum Likelihood Estimation. Society for Political Methodology, Working papers.

  36. Hox, J. (2002) Multilevel Analysis. Techniques and Applications. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  37. International Social Security Association ISSA. (2008) Social Security Worldwide, online database: http://www-ssw.issa.int.

  38. Iyengar, S. and Kinder, D.R. (1987) News That Matters. Television and American Opinion. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Jackman, S. (2000) Estimation and inference via Bayesian simulation: An introduction to Markov chain Monte Carlo. American Journal of Political Science 44 (2): 369–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kersbergen, K.v. (2000) The declining resistance of welfare states to change? In: S. Kuhnle (ed.) Survival of the European Welfare State. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 19–36.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Kersbergen, K.v. (2002) The politics of welfare state reforms. Swiss Political Science Review 8 (1): 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Key, V.O. (1966) The Responsible Electorate. Rationality in Presidential Voting, 1936–1960. New York: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Knutsen, O. (1995) Left–right materialist value orientations. In: J. v. Deth and E. Scarbrough (eds.) The Impact of Values. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 160–196.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Krämer, J. and Rattinger, H. (1997) The proximity and the directional theories of issue voting: Comparative results for the USA and Germany. European Journal of Political Research 32 (1): 1–29.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Krosnick, J.A. (1988) The role of attitude importance in social evaluation: A study of policy preferences, presidential candidate evaluation, and voting behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 55 (1): 196–210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Krosnick, J.A. (1990) Government policy and citizen passion: A study of issue publics in contemporary America. Political Behavior 12 (1): 59–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Krosnick, J.A. and Brannon, L.A. (1993) The impact of the gulf war on the ingredients of presidential evaluations: Multidimensional effects of political involvement. American Political Science Review 87 (4): 963–975.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Krosnick, J.A. and Kinder, D.R. (1990) Altering the foundations of support for the president trough priming. American Political Science Review 84 (2): 497–512.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Küchler, M. (1991) Issues and voting in the European elections 1989. European Journal of Political Research 19 (1): 81–103.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Küchler, M. (1994) Politische Streitfragen und Wahlentscheidung: Vereinigung als ‘Neue’ Frage? In: H. -D. Klingemann and M. Kaase (eds.) Wahlen Und Wähler: Analysen aus Anlass der Bundestagswahl 1990. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 422–451.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Lau, R.R. (1985) Two explanations for negativity effects in political behavior. American Journal of Political Science 29 (1): 119–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Listhaug, O. (2005) Retrospective voting. In: J. Thomassen (ed.) The European Voter. A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 213–253.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Long, J.S. (1997) Regression Models for Categorical and Limited Dependent Variables. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Luskin, R.C. (1987) From denial to extenuation (and finally beyond): Political sophistication and citizen performance. In: J. Kuklinski (ed.) Thinking About Political Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 281–305.

    Google Scholar 

  55. MacKuen, M., Erikson, R.S. and Stimson, J.A. (1996) Comment. Journal of Politics 58 (3): 793–801.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. MacKuen, M.B., Erikson, R.S. and Stimson, J.A. (1992) Peasants or bankers? The American electorate and the US economy. American Political Science Review 86 (3): 597–611.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. McCombs, M.E. and Shaw, D.L. (1972) The agenda-setting function of mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly 36 (1): 176–187.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Miller, W.E. and Shanks, J.M. (1982) Policy directions and presidential leadership: Alternative interpretations of the 1980 presidential election. British Journal of Political Science 12 (3): 299–356.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Nadeau, R., Niemi, R.G. and Yoshinaka, A. (2002) A cross-national analysis of economic voting: Taking account of the political context across time and nations. Electoral Studies 21 (3): 403–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Nannestad, P. and Paldam, M. (1994) The VP-function: A survey of the literature on vote and popularity functions after 25 Years. Public Choice 79: 213–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Norpoth, H. (1996) Presidents and the prospective voter. Journal of Politics 58 (3): 776–792.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Oppenhuis, E. (1995) Voting Behavior in Europe. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Het Spinhuis.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Page, B.I. and Brody, R.A. (1972) Policy voting and the electoral process: The Vietnam War issue. American Political Science Review 66 (3): 979–995.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. Petrocik, J.R. (1996) Issue ownership in presidential elections, with a 1980 case study. American Journal of Political Science 40 (3): 825–850.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Pierson, P. (1994) Dismantling the Welfare State?: Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment. Cambridge: University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Pierson, P. (1996) The new politics of the welfare state. World Politics 48 (2): 143–179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Pierson, P. (2001) Coping with permanent austerity. Welfare state restructuring in affluent democracies. In: P. Pierson (ed.) The New Politics of the Welfare State. Oxford: University Press, pp. 410–456.

    Google Scholar 

  68. Pinheiro, J.C. and Bates, D.M. (2000) Mixed-Effects Models in S and S-Plus. New York: Springer Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Powell, G.B. (2000) Elections as Instruments of Democracy. Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  70. Powell, G.B. and Whitten, G.D. (1993) A cross-national analysis of economic voting: Taking account of the political context. American Journal of Political Science 37 (2): 391–414.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Raftery, A.E. and Lewis, S.M. (1992) How many iterations in the Gibbs sampler? Bayesian Statistics 7 (4): 493–497.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Rattinger, H. (1990) Bestimmungsfaktoren des Wahlverhaltens bei der Amerikanischen Präsidentschaftswahl 1988 unter besonderer Berücksichtigung Politischer Sachfragen. Politische Vierteljahresschrift 31 (1): 54–78.

    Google Scholar 

  73. RePass, D.E. (1971) Issue salience and party choice. American Political Science Review 65 (2): 389–400.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Roller, E. (1992) Einstellungen der Bürger zum Wohlfahrtsstaat der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verl.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Roller, E. (1995) The welfare state: The equality dimension. In: O. Borre and E. Scarbrough (eds.) The Scope of Government: Beliefs in Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 165–197.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Roller, E. (1998) Positions – Und Performanzbasierte Sachfragenorientierungen Und Wahlentscheidung: Eine Theoretische Und Empirische Analyse Aus Anlass Der Bundestagswahl 1994. In: M. Kaase and H.-D. Klingemann (eds.) Wahlen Und Wähler. Analysen Aus Anlass Der Bundestagswahl 1994. Wiesbaden, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 1173–1219.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Rusk, J.G. (1987) Issues and voting. Research in Micropolitics 2 (1): 95–141.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Sani, G. and Sartori, G. (1983) Polarization fragmentation and competition in western democracies. In: H. Daalder and P. Mair (eds.) Western European Party Systems. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, pp. 307–340.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Sniderman, P.M. and Theriault, S.M. (2004) The structure of political argument and the logic of issue framing. In: W. E. Saris and P. M. Sniderman (eds.) Studies in Public Opinion. Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 133–165.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Snijders, T.A.B. and Bosker, R.J. (1999) Multilevel Analysis. An Introduction to Basic and Advanced Multilevel Modeling. London: SAGE.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Starke, P. (2008) Radical Welfare State Retrenchment: A Comparative Analysis. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  82. Steenbergen, M.R. and Jones, B.S. (2002) Modeling multilevel data structures. American Journal of Political Science 46 (1): 218–237.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Svallfors, S. (1997) Worlds of welfare and attitudes to redistribution: A comparison of eight western nations. European Sociological Review 13 (3): 283–304.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. Svallfors, S. (2007) Introduction. In: S. Svallfors (ed.) The Political Sociology of the Welfare State. Institutions, Social Cleavages, and Orientations. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 1–30.

    Google Scholar 

  85. Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1973) Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology 5 (2): 207–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  86. Veiga, F.J. and Veiga, L.G. (2004) The determinants of vote intentions in Portugal. Public Choice 118 (3–4): 341–364.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  87. Vis, B. (2008) Biting the Bullet or Steering Clear? Politics of (Not-) Unpopular Welfare State Reform in Advanced Capitalist Democracies. Faculty of Social Sciences. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Vrije Universiteit.

    Google Scholar 

  88. Wattenberg, M.P. (1995) Why Clinton won and Dukatis lost. Party Politics 1 (2): 245–260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. Western, B. and Jackman, S. (1994) Bayesian inference for comparative research. American Political Science Review 88 (2): 412–423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  90. Whiteley, P., Stewart, M.C., Sanders, D. and Clarke, H.D. (2005) The issue agenda and voting in 2005. Parliamentary Affairs 58 (4): 802–817.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  91. Whitten, G.D. and Palmer, H.D. (1999) Cross-national analyses of economic voting. Electoral Studies 18 (1): 49–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions 2007, Helsinki. It profited highly from comments of the workshop participants and also of other colleagues. This paper was written in the context of the research project Political Consequences of Attitudes towards the Welfare State and is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation under the grant-Nr. 100012–108274.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Giger, N. Do voters punish the government for welfare state retrenchment? A comparative study of electoral costs associated with social policy. Comp Eur Polit 8, 415–443 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1057/cep.2009.4

Download citation

Keywords

  • welfare state retrenchment
  • social policy attitudes
  • comparative electoral behavior
  • issue voting