Risk and Demand for Social Protection in an Era of Populism


Kate Baldwin and Isabela Mares

Full citation: 
Baldwin, K., & Mares, I. (2023). Risk and Demand for Social Protection in an Era of Populism. Political Science Research and Methods, 11(3), 537–554. Cambridge University Press. DOI: 10.1017/psrm.2022.43.
Economic and health crises have profound political consequences for public support for social policy, historically setting in motion a massive expansion of governmental programs. Is demand for social protection likely to increase among citizens exposed to risk in an era in which populist messages are prominent? We show that this depends critically on the precise targets that populists evoke as enemies of the people. We distinguish between two types of political rhetoric deployed by populist politicians in their claims to represent the authentic people—one opposing the authority of domestic elites, including technocrats, and one attacking foreigners. We examine the extent to which each rhetorical strategy reduces or enhances popular demand for social policies by randomly exposing Americans to these frames as part of a public opinion survey conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic. Our results show that the two messages have different consequences for support for redistribution among respondents exposed to risk: populist anti-foreign rhetoric that blames foreign countries for the onset of the pandemic increases demand for expansion of social protection compared to populist anti-elite rhetoric.
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