Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

David J. Houston

Committee Members

Patricia K. Freeland, Anthony J. Nownes, Stephanie A. Bohon


What explains public support for social welfare policies? The extant literature on this topic suggests that people’s attitudes are mainly a reflection of their political ideology and economic self-interest. However, this explanation fails to recognize the role that the public sector plays in influencing individuals’ social welfare policy preferences. The literature, with few exceptions, also does not thoroughly acknowledge how national context alters people’s attitudes. Data from 23 national samples in Europe, North America, Eastern Asia, and Oceania taken from the 2006 ISSP are examined using multilevel regression. The dependent variable is a measure of individual’s views of governmental responsibility, reflecting eight different types of social welfare policies.

The analysis reveals that public attitudes about social welfare policies vary both within countries and between countries. Variation within countries is a function of socio-demographic attributes, socio-psychological attitudes, and views toward the public sector. Across-country variation is largely a function of the quality of government institutions, income inequality, and, to a lesser extent, economic conditions. These results suggest that how people come to judge public sector actors, as well as the quality of the work they perform, directly influences their level of support for social welfare policies. Similarly, the findings also imply that levels of government effectiveness measured at the country-level matter, as well.

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