Skip to main content
×
×
Home

What wins public support? Communicating or obfuscating welfare state retrenchment

  • Christian Elmelund-Præstekær (a1), Michael Baggesen Klitgaard (a1) and Gijs Schumacher (a1)
Abstract

Conventional wisdom holds that in order to evade electoral punishment governments obfuscate welfare state retrenchment. However, governments do not uniformly lose votes in elections after they cut back on welfare benefits or services. Recent evidence indicates that some of these unpopular reforms are in fact vote-winners for the government. Our study of eight Danish labor marked related reforms uses insights from experimental framing studies to evaluate the impact of welfare state retrenchment on government popularity. We hypothesize that communicating retrenchment is a better strategy than obfuscating retrenchment measures. In addition, we hypothesize that the opposition’s choice between arguing against the retrenchment measure, or staying silent on the issue, affects the government’s popularity. Thus, the study presents a novel theoretical model of the popularity effects of welfare state retrenchment. In order to evaluate our propositions, we move beyond the standard measure in the literature and use monthly opinion polls to reduce the number of other factors that might affect government popularity. We demonstrate that governments can evade popular punishment by communication. They can even gain popularity if the opposition chooses not to attack. On the other hand, government popularity declines if the government obfuscates – and the decline is even larger if the opposition chooses to attack.

Copyright
Corresponding author
*E-mail: cel@sam.sdu.dk
References
Hide All
Andersen, J.G. (2011), ‘Denmark: an ambiguous modernization of an inclusive unemployment protection system’, in J. Clasen and D. Clegg (eds), Regulating the Risk of Unemployment: National Adaptations to Post-Industrial Labour Markets in Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 187207.
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): 558580.
Béland, D. (2005), ‘Ideas and social policy: an institutionalist perspective’, Social Policy & Administration 39(1): 118.
Bennett, L.W. (1990), ‘Toward a theory of press-state relations in the United States’, Journal of Communication 40(2): 103125.
Bille, L. (1998), Dansk partipolitik 1987–1998, København: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets forlag.
Bille, L. (2001), Fra valgkamp til valgkamp. Dansk partipolitik 1998–2001, København: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets forlag.
Bille, L. (2006), Det nye flertal. Dansk partipolitik 2001–2005, København: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets forlag.
Bille, L. (2014), Blå eller rød eller...? Dansk partipolitik 2005-2011 i perspektiv, København: Jurist- og Økonomforbundet.
Boeri, T. and Tabellini, G. (2012), ‘Does information increase political support for pension reform?’, Public Choice 150(1): 327362.
Bonoli, G. (2001), ‘Political institutions, veto points, and the process of welfare state adaption’, in P. Pierson (ed.), The New Politics of the Welfare State, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 238265.
Chong, D. and Druckman, J.N. (2007a), Framing public opinion in competitive democracies’, American Behavioral Scientist 101(4): 637655.
Chong, D. and Druckman, J.N. (2007b), A theory of framing and opinion formation in competitive elite environments’, Journal of Communication 57(1): 99118.
Christiansen, P.M. and Klitgaard, M.B. (2010), ‘Behind the veil of vagueness: success and failure in institutional reforms’, Journal of Public Policy 30(2): 183200.
Cox, R.H. (2001), ‘The social construction of an imperative: why welfare reform happened in Denmark and the Netherlands but not in Germany’, World Politics 55(3): 463498.
Culpepper, P.D. (2011), Quiet Politics and Business Power: Corporate Control in Europe and Japan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Elmelund-Præstekær, C. and Emmenegger, P. (2013), ‘Strategic re-framing as a vote winner: why vote-seeking governments pursue unpopular reforms’, Scandinavian Political Studies 36(1): 2342.
Elmelund-Præstekær, C. and Klitgaard, M.B. (2012), ‘Policy or institution? The political choice of retrenchment strategy’, Journal of European Public Policy 19(7): 10891107.
Elmelund-Praestekaer, C., Hopmann, D.N. and Nørgaard, A.S. (2011), ‘Does mediatization change MP-media interaction and MP attitudes toward the media? Evidence from a longitudinal study of Danish MPs’, International Journal of Press/Politics 16(3): 382403.
Entman, R. (1993), ‘Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm’, Journal of Communication 43(4): 5158.
Gibson, D. and Goodin, R.E. (1999), ‘The veil of vagueness: a model of institutional design’, in M. Egeberg and P. Lægreid (eds), Organizing Political Institutions: Essays for Johan P. Olsen, Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, pp. 357385.
Giger, N. (2010), ‘Do voters punish the government for welfare state retrenchment? A comparative study of electoral costs associated with social policy’, Comparative European Politics 8(4): 415443.
Giger, N. and Nelson, M. (2011), ‘The electoral consequences of welfare state retrenchment: blame avoidance or credit claiming in the era of permanent austerity?’, European Journal of Political Research 50(1): 123.
Government (1993), En ny start, København: Firkløverregeringen.
Government (2002a), Aftale om 'Flere i arbejde', Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2002b), Flere i arbejde, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2002c), Flere i arbejde – et debatoplæg, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2006), Aftale om fremtidens velstand og velfaerd og investeringer i fremtiden, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2010a), Danmark 2020: Viden>vaekst>velstand>velfaerd, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2010b), GenopretningsPakken: Danmark ud af krisen – regningen betalt, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2011a), Aftale om senere tilbagetraekning, Copenhagen: The Government.
Government (2011b), ...vi kan jo ikke låne os til velfærd! Regeringens forslag til tilbagetrækningsreform, Copenhagen: The Government.
Green-Pedersen, C. (2002), The Politics of Justification: Party Competition and Welfare-State Retrenchment in Denmark and the Netherlands from 1982 to 1998, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Hobolt, S.B. and Klemmensen, R. (2005), ‘Responsive government? Public opinion and policy preferences in Britain and Denmark’, Political Studies 53(3): 379402.
Kahneman, D. and Tversky, A. (1979), ‘Prospect theory: an analysis of decision under risk’, Econometrics 47(2): 263291.
Kangas, O.E., Niemela, M. and Varjonen, S. (2014), ‘When and why do ideas matter? The influence of framing on opinion formation and policy change’, European Political Science Review 6(1): 7392.
Klitgaard, M.B. (2007), ‘Why are they doing it? Social democracy and market oriented welfare state reforms’, West European Politics 30(1): 172194.
Klitgaard, M.B. (2008), ‘School vouchers and the new politics of the welfare state’, Governance 21(4): 479498.
Klitgaard, M.B. and Nørgaard, A.S. (2014), ‘Structural stress or deliberate decision? How governments have disempowered unions in Denmark’, European Political Science Review 53(2): 404421.
Larsen, C.A. and Andersen, J.G. (2004), Magten på Borgen: En analyse af beslutningsprocesser i større politiske reformer, Århus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.
Lindbom, A. (2010), ‘Media news evaluation and welfare state retrenchment: the untransparent cutbacks of the housing allowance’, Scandinavian Political Studies 33(3): 207223.
Pierson, P. (1996), ‘The new politics of the welfare state’, World Politics 48(2): 143179.
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: Oxford University Press, pp 410456.
Schmidt, V.A. (2002), ‘Does discourse matter in the politics of welfare state adjustment?’, Comparative Political Studies 35(2): 168193.
Schmidt, V.A. (2010), ‘Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’’, European Political Science Review 2(1): 125.
Schudson, M. (2003), The Sociology of News, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Schumacher, G., Vis, B. and van Kersbergen, K. (2013), ‘Political parties’ welfare image, electoral punishment, and welfare state retrenchment’, Comparative European Politics 11(1): 121.
Slothuus, R. (2007), ‘Framing deservingness to win support for welfare state retrenchment’, Scandinavian Political Studies 30(3): 323344.
Slothuus, R. and de Vreese, C.H. (2010), ‘Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects’, Journal of Politics 72(3): 630645.
Strøm, K. and Müller, W.C. (1999), Policy, Office, Or Votes?: How Political Parties in Western Europe Make Hard Decisions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Torfing, J. (2004), Det stille sporskifte i velfaerdsstaten. En diskursteoretisk beslutningsprocesanalyse af skiftet fra forsørgelse til aktivering, Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.
van Oorschot, W. (2000), ‘Who should get what, and why? On deservingness criteria and the conditionality of solidarity among the public’, Policy & Politic 28(1): 3348.
Vis, B. (2010), Politics of Risk-Taking: Welfare State Reform in Advanced Democracies, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Vis, B. and van Kersbergen, K. (2007), ‘Why and how do political actors pursue risky reforms?’, Journal of Theoretical Politics 19(2): 153172.
Weaver, K.R. (1986), ‘The politics of blame avoidance’, Journal of Public Policy 6(4): 371398.
Welfare-Commission (2006), Høring om Fremtidens velfaerd – vores valg, Copenhagen: The Welfare Comission.
Wenzelburger, G. (2011), ‘Political strategies and fiscal retrenchment: evidence from four countries’, West European Politics 34(6): 11511184.
Winther, S. (2003), ‘Kanalrundfart eller zapning? Om kanaler og areanaer i den aktive arbejdsmarkedspolitik’, in P.K. Madsen and L. Pedersen (eds), Drivkræfter bag arbejdsmarkedspolitiken, Købehnavn: Socialforskningsinstituttet, pp 268317.
Wolfe, M., Jones, B.D. and Baumgartner, F.R. (2013), ‘A failure to communicate: agenda setting in media and policy studies’, Political Communication 30(2): 175192.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 1755-7739
  • EISSN: 1755-7747
  • URL: /core/journals/european-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed