Explaining public support for counterproductive homeless policy: the role of disgust
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Citation (published version)S Piston. 2017. "Explaining Public Support for Counterproductive Homeless Policy: The Role of Disgust." Political Behavior, v. 39, Issue 2, pp. 503 - 525. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-016-9366-4
Federal, state, and city governments spend substantial funds on programs intended to aid homeless people, and such programs attract widespread public support. In recent years, however, state and local governments have increasingly enacted policies, such as bans on panhandling and sleeping in public, that are counterproductive to alleviating homelessness. Yet these policies also garner substantial support from the public. Given that programs aiding the homeless are so popular, why are these counterproductive policies also popular? We argue that disgust plays a key role in the resolution of this puzzle. While disgust does not decrease support for aid policies or even generate negative affect towards homeless people, it motivates the desire for physical distance, leading to support for policies that exclude homeless people from public life. We test this argument using survey data, including a national sample with an embedded experiment. Consistent with these expectations, our findings indicate that those respondents who are dispositionally sensitive to disgust are more likely to support exclusionary policies, such as banning panhandling, but no less likely to support policies intended to aid homeless people. Furthermore, media depictions of the homeless that include disease cues activate disgust, increasing its impact on support for banning panhandling. These results help explain the popularity of exclusionary homelessness policies and challenge common perspectives on the role of group attitudes in public life.