Disentangling Preferences for Multi-dimensional Policies: A Conjoint Experiment
A large literature in political science examines citizens’ economic policy preferences, typically in a uni-dimensional framework: citizens can prefer left-wing over right-wing policies, or more or less social spending. However, in reality social policies are multi-dimensional and it has been long acknowledged that their distributive consequences depend on the specific configuration of programs as much as on the overall level of spending (Esping-Andersen 2006). The ways to expand or retrench a social policy are manifold and policy-makers often propose package deals, in which they compensate retrenchment on one dimension by expanding on another (Bonoli 2005). In spite of the importance of the specific features of social policies, previous research on citizens’ social policy preferences has largely failed to take into account their multi-dimensionality.
This paper examines policy preferences towards multi-dimensional unemployment programs and asks two questions: Which elements of policy change gain wide acceptance in the population? Are there systematic differences in the dimensions that are relevant for different kinds of publics? We conduct a conjoint experiment asking respondents to choose between sets of alternative reforms of unemployment benefits. Our results first show that respondents care mostly about the distributive effects of policies: programs that increase protection for the most needy are preferred over those that target other publics. While income, labor market position, and risk situation have a surprisingly small influence on the importance given to features of unemployment programs, ideology and economic values turn out to affect the policy priorities of respondents. This evidence provides strong support for the growing literature that finds that ideology dominates interests when predicting attitudes towards redistributive and insurance programs.