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Racial Cues and Attitudes toward Redistribution: A Comparative Experimental Approach


  • Shanto Iyengar


Support for welfare in the US is heavily influenced by citizens’ racial attitudes, especially citizens’ attitudes toward Blacks. Indeed, the fact that many Americans think of welfare recipients as poor Blacks (and especially poor Black women) is a common explanation for Americans’ comparatively low support for redistribution cross-nationally. In this study, we extend existing work on how racialized portrayals of recipients affect attitudes toward redistribution. The data for the analysis are drawn from a new and unique online survey experiment, implemented by YouGov with representative samples (n=1200) in each of the US, UK and Canada. Relying on a series of survey vignettes, we manipulate program type (welfare vs. unemployment insurance) as well as the ethno-racial background of recipients (through morphed photos and common ethnicized names). In doing so, we seek to make three specific contributions. First, we test whether support for a means-tested program like welfare is lower than support for contribution-based program like unemployment insurance. Second, we extend the American literature to explore whether there is an anti-Black bias in other countries. Third, we examine whether citizens respond to other minority groups (Asians and Southeast Asians) in a similar manner. Parallel survey designs allows for an unprecedented comparative analysis of the underlying political-psychological sources of support (or lack of support) for redistributive policies across Anglo-Saxon democracies. The paper concludes by considering the implications of this study in light of growing immigrant-driven diversity in North America and Europe.

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  • Shanto Iyengar, 2013. "Racial Cues and Attitudes toward Redistribution: A Comparative Experimental Approach," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 59, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:euirsc:p0347

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2001. "Group Loyalty and the Taste for Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 500-528, June.
    2. Johnston, Richard & Banting, Keith & Kymlicka, Will & Soroka, Stuart, 2010. "National Identity and Support for the Welfare State," SULCIS Working Papers 2010:11, Stockholm University, Linnaeus Center for Integration Studies - SULCIS.
    3. Papadakis, Elim & Bean, Clive, 1993. "Popular Support for the Welfare State: A Comparison Between Institutional Regimes," Journal of Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 13(03), pages 227-254, July.
    4. Allison Harell, 2010. "Political Tolerance, Racist Speech, and the Influence of Social Networks," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 91(3), pages 724-740, September.
    5. Allison Harell & Stuart Soroka, 2010. "Race of Recipient and Support for Welfare in Canada," CIRANO Working Papers 2010s-42, CIRANO.
    6. Gilliam, Franklin D. Jr. & Valentino, Nicholas A. & Beckman, Matthew N., 2002. "Where You Live and What You Watch: The Impact of Racial Proximity and Local Television News on Attitudes about Race and Crime," Institute for Social Science Research, Working Paper Series qt7g05r6s4, Institute for Social Science Research, UCLA.
    7. Dietlind Stolle & Stuart Soroka & Richard Johnston, 2008. "When Does Diversity Erode Trust? Neighborhood Diversity, Interpersonal Trust and the Mediating Effect of Social Interactions," Political Studies, Political Studies Association, vol. 56, pages 57-75, March.
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