Preferences and Priorities Towards Fiscal and Social Policies


Governments constantly face fiscal policy trade-offs. In times of permanent austerity, resources are scare which presents policy-makers with difficult choices. They have to fear electoral punishment because existing research shows that citizens support most forms of government spending. At the same time, it is said that most citizens also strongly oppose taxation or government debt. Yet, we know little about public opinion towards trade-offs. Therefore, my research shifts the focus from peoples’ preferences towards peoples’ priorities.

First, in a joint research project, Reto Bürgisser and I study public opinion towards (i) fiscal policies (including government spending, taxation, and government debt) and (ii) social policies (including various forms of social investment and social consumption). The research project brings together our substantive interests in the politics of fiscal policies and the welfare state and it uses original conjoint and split-sample survey experiments in four European countries (Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK) to capture the multidimensionality of fiscal and social policies. Disentangling the preferences towards different policies in this way allows us to analyze the citizens’ priorities when they are confronted with some of the trade-offs that are inherent in policy-making.

Second, I further analyze public opinion towards different fiscal and social policies under constraints in several co-authored papers. Based on survey data from eight Western European countries, Marius Busemeyer and I provide a partial answer to the question of why social investment policies are difficult to implement. We explore citizens’ fiscal policy preferences about the preferred size of the state and the distribution of spending across different sub-sectors. Our results show that people who traditionally support a large public sector and more welfare state spending tend to oppose shifting spending towards social investment, whereas support for such a recalibration is higher among those who have skeptical views on public spending.

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