Welfare attitudes and race: a conjoint experiment on group dynamics and support for the American welfare state
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In Martin Gilens’ book, Why Americans Hate Welfare, he argues that public opinion for welfare programs varies based on the public’s perception of who the poor are and why they are poor—expressing public opinion’s differing affinity for the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” Existing literature on Americans’ support for welfare programs suggests many possible reasons for this underlying sentiment about welfare recipients, primarily racial divides, gender differences, regional divides, and anti-state sentiments. This study attempts to determine which of these factors is strongest in determining how many Americans determine their beliefs about who is most deserving of certain types of welfare supports. By using a survey design paired with a conjoint experiment, this study seeks to capture the effect of the survey participant’s demographic characteristics and perceptions of certain economic and social issues surrounding the welfare debate, as well as how the respondent differentiates between sets of individuals when deciding who should be supported by various types of welfare programs. Based on this research design, I hypothesize that race is the strongest determinant of a participant’s perception of welfare deservingness, and that deservingness of welfare support is perceived to be higher when the participant has similar personal characteristics to the individual in question. Through this analysis, I do not find evidence to support Gilens’ and others’ claims that race is a dominant factor in how individuals determine who is deserving of welfare assistance and general support for welfare policies.