Silja Häusermann, Macarena Ares, Matthias Enggist, and Michael Pinggera (forthcoming): The Politics of Welfare Reform in 21st Century Western Europe: Inclusion or Segmentation. Oxford University Press. abstract

Western European welfare states are facing three key social and economic challenges in the 21st century: the rise of the knowledge economy, demographic ageing, and the massive political polarization over questions of immigration and integration. How can these challenges be addressed with the tools of social policy? How much resources can and should be spent on correcting market outcomes and equalizing incomes? Should the welfare state honor its promise of providing encompassing social security by shielding citizens from the risks and challenges of the early 21st century, or by helping them adapt to these new realities, and by expanding the pool of solidarity to new risk groups? The answers different citizens and political parties in Europe give to these questions differ dramatically. The book project I will be presenting studies political conflict over the provision of public welfare in the early 21st century, identifying structural and coalitional opportunities for reform across policy fields and regional contexts. Its main claim is that the question of inclusion vs. segmentation has become a key dividing line in the politics of welfare reform. Both voters and elites debate whether to expand the boundaries of welfare programs to address new social risks and prioritize future economic opportunities – inclusion – or whether to target expenditure in ways that prioritize the current community and its income security – segmentation. To study politicization and reform opportunities in different fields of social policy, the book draws on large amounts of novel data regarding the social policy positions and priorities of citizens and political parties. We show that the question of inclusion vs. segmentation has become a fully fledged, divisive (partisan) conflict line in European welfare politics; as divisive, if not more, than the conflict over the extent of public market correction. The divide over inclusion vs. segmentation has the potential to divide both the political Right and the Left. However – in contrast to what most public debates would have us think – our findings show that the divide is actually stronger on the political Right, while the Left turns out to be generally more unified in its stance for socially inclusive policies. More fundamentally, our analysis demonstrates that European welfare states have moved well past what Hall (2021) call the “era of liberalization”, entering a new context characterized by the “primacy of politics”. Whether this primacy of politics will have us see welfare states taking a turn for more inclusive or more segmented social policies, however, is an open question the answer to which depends on institutional-political legacies, and varies by policy fields and countries. The book presents key findings from over four years of empirical research in the context of the ERC-funded project “Welfarepriorities”. It builds on large amounts of original data from public opinion surveys and content coding in eight West European countries (Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Italy and Spain). It is an attempt to systematically assess the implications of mass electoral realignment for the politics and reform opportunities of welfare states across a wide range of major social policy fields and across different institutional-regional contexts of European welfare states.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Enggist, Matthias, Silja Häusermann, and Michael Pinggera (2022): Increased solidarity with the working population, at the expense of old age pensions – Panel-data evidence on the effect of the COVID-experience on welfare preferences in Spain, Germany and Sweden. Journal of European Public Policy. pdf | abstract

The reform capacity of welfare states to adapt to the needs of post-industrial labour markets has been a key question of the welfare literature for the last two decades. In a context of austerity, such adaptations (retrenchment or recalibration) are notoriously difficult because of extremely high levels of support for existing policies, particularly for old age pensions. We investigate how the recent economic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has changed social policy preferences in three West European countries (Germany, Sweden, Spain). Relying on original panel data observing the relative support for social policies before and during the crisis, we show that support for old age pensions has dropped substantially relative to support for other social policies. This drop can be observed in all three countries, among all ideological camps and all age groups. The drop is strongest among current and soon-to-be pensioners who in turn increased support for benefits to the working-age population. At the expense of pensions, the economic shock has especially boosted support for active labour market policies and (in Germany) childcare services. This shift of support from pensions to social investment policies might have opened up a window of opportunity for recalibrating reforms of the welfare state.

Enggist, Matthias and Michael Pinggera (2022): Radical right parties and their welfare state stances — not so blurry after all? West European Politics 45(1): 102-128. pdf | abstract

Recent literature shows that radical right parties (RRPs) present moderate or blurry economic stances. However, this article argues that this blurriness is restricted to only one of the two main conflicts of contemporary welfare politics, namely on questions centring on welfare generosity. In contrast, when it comes to the goals and principles the welfare state should meet, RRPs take a clear stance favouring consumption policies such as old age pensions over social investment, in accordance with their voters’ preferences. The empirical analysis based on new, fine-grained coding of welfare stances in party manifestos and original data on voters’ perceptions of party stances in seven European countries supports this argument. RRPs de-emphasise how much welfare state they want while consistently and clearly defending the traditional welfare state’s consumptive focus against recalibration proposals. These findings have important implications for party competition and welfare politics.

Häusermann, Silja, Michael Pinggera, Macarena Ares, and Matthias Enggist (2022): Class and social policy in the knowledge economy. European Journal of Political Research 61(2): 462-484. pdf | abstract

Recent studies of welfare state attitudes in the knowledge economy find very high generalized support for generous welfare state policies, both among the working and the middle classes. Has class become irrelevant as a predictor of social policy preferences? Or do we simply misconceptualise today’s class conflict over social policy? To what extent has it changed from a divide over the level of social policy generosity to a divide over the kind of social policy and – more specifically – over the relative importance that should be given to different social policies? Answering these questions is not only relevant to understand welfare politics in the 21st century, but electoral politics as well: only when we understand what working- and middle-class voters care about, can we evaluate the role distributive policies play in electoral processes. We use original survey data from eight West European countries to show that middle- and working-class respondents indeed differ in the relative importance they attribute to social investment and social consumption policies. Middle-class respondents consistently attribute higher absolute and relative importance to social investment. We also show that this emphasis on investive policies relates to the middle class expecting better future economic and social opportunities than the working class. This divide in anticipated opportunities underlies a new kind of working- vs. middle-class divide, which contributes to transforming the class divide from a conflict over the level of social policy to a conflict over the priorities of social policy.

Pinggera, Michael (2022): Place and Policy Preferences – Spatial Divides in Attitudes towards Social Policies in Germany. Swiss Political Science Review. pdf | abstract

The rise of the knowledge economy has led to a bifurcation between prosperous, often urban, areas and “left-behind” regions. While the literature has started to analyse the political implications of these developments for electoral behaviour and socio-cultural attitudes, the structuring of social policy preferences by place remains unclear. Distinguishing between an economic (booming-declining) and a geographic (urban–rural) dimension, I argue that differences in material self-interest and ideological predispositions explain spatial divides in support for different types of social policies. Combining original survey data on voters’ preferences with municipal-level data in Germany, I show that general support for social policy is higher in declining than in booming regions. However, social investments (e.g., active labour market policies) are preferred over consumption policies (e.g., unemployment benefits) in booming and, to a smaller degree, in urban than in declining and rural regions. These findings contribute to a bigger discussion on compensating “left-behind” regions.

Pinggera, Michael (2021): Congruent with whom? Parties’ issue emphases and voter preferences in welfare politics. Journal of European Public Policy 28(12): 1973-1992. pdf | abstract

Over the last decades we have witnessed a growing support coalition for the welfare state and at the same time an increase in conflict over its specific design. In this context of high but specific support for social policy, parties engage in issue competition. The question therefor arises as to how well parties’ social policy issue emphases match voters’ preferences and which voters’ preferences do they match? Building on issue yield theory (De Sio & Weber, 2014), I argue that parties emphasise bridge policies; policies that enjoy high support both among partisans and among the general electorate. Using an original online-survey and a new and fine-grained coding of social policy emphasis in party manifestos from seven West European countries, I find that parties, irrespective of party family, are indeed congruent with both supporters and the general electorate. Hence, general congruence is quite high, but specifically directed towards broadly supported issues.

Book Chapters

Garritzmann, Julian L., Silja Häusermann, Thomas Kurer, Bruno Palier, and Michael Pinggera (2022): The Emergence of Knowledge Economies: Educational Expansion, Labor Market Changes, and the Politics of Social Investment. In The World Politics of Social Investment (Volume I): Welfare States in the Knowledge Economy, J.L. Garritzmann, S. Häusermann, and B. Palier (eds). Oxford: Oxford University Press. abstract

The creation, preservation and mobilization of human skills and capabilities are the defining functions of social investment policies (cf. the Introduction of this Volume). This is why social investment has often been seen as a necessary correlate of the knowledge economy, a context in which cognitive skills are ever more relevant both at the individual-level (e.g., for higher incomes, better working conditions, and improved health and well-being) and at the macrolevel (e.g., for economic growth, social cohesion, and innovation). Hence, the structural and institutional underpinnings of the politics of social investment need to be understood with reference to educational and occupational trends. This chapter traces the development of regional varieties of knowledge economies over the past two centuries. We show massive educational expansion across all world regions, with a specific shift towards tertiary education and cognitive skills in the most advanced capitalist democracies (the OECD economies). Hence, in a second step, the chapter focuses on these advanced capitalist democracies, and traces the relationship between educational expansion and labor market changes. Using large-scale labor market data, we show that the trend towards advanced knowledge economies has coincided with a fundamental change in the occupational structure. We identify a pattern of ‘skill upgrading’ and simultaneous vanishing of ‘medium-skilled’ jobs, resulting in a trend towards ‘job polarization’ in all countries. We also analyze to what extent the occupational transformation varies across contexts, i.e. by welfare legacies. In the final part of the chapter we discuss the implications of these changes for popular and economic demand for social investment policies, and for the politics of social investment more generally. We argue that increasing economic as well as societal demand for high-skilled labor shape (but do not determine) the politics of social investment, by affecting the degree and kind of politicization of social investment as well as potential reform coalitions.

Häusermann, Silja, Matthias Enggist, and Michael Pinggera (2019): Sozialpolitik in Hard Times. In Handbuch Sozialpolitik, H. Obinger and M. Schmidt (eds). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. pdf | abstract

Dieser Beitrag skizziert aus vergleichender Perspektive die Grundzüge der Entwicklung des westlichen Wohlfahrtsstaates seit den 1980er Jahren. Er beleuchtet anhand verschiedener Indikatoren die Debatte um Stabilität oder Rückbau sozialpolitischer Leistungen und zeigt aktuelle Entwicklungen sozialstaatlicher Politik auf.

Non-Peer Reviewed Articles

Häusermann, Silja, Macarena Ares, Matthias Enggist, and Michael Pinggera (2020): Mass public attitudes on social policy priorities and reforms in Western Europe. WELFAREPRIORITIES dataset 2020. Welfarepriorities Working Paper Series, n°1/20. pdf | abstract

This paper presents the WELFAREPRIORITIES dataset 2020, which contains new and detailed data on citizens’ attitudes regarding social policies, the relative importance citizens attribute to different social policy fields (old age pensions, childcare services, higher education, active labor market policy, unemployment benefits, social assistance), their social policy experiences, their perceptions of party positions regarding social policy, voters’ electoral preferences, as well as respondents’ social status, status mobility and socio-demographics. The representative sample consists of 12’000 respondents in 8 West European countries (Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark). Through detailed information on voters’ social policy priorities (measured through conjoint experiments, point distribution question and trade-off questions), the data allows to study new research questions in the field of the mass politics of welfare state development and reform. The dataset also contains extensive information regarding voter preferences, and thus allows to link the study of electoral politics, partisan competition and welfare politics in new ways. This paper presents the motivation and implementation of the data collection, the data itself (including the codebook) and its validation.

Häusermann, Silja, Thomas Kurer, Michael Pinggera, and Denise Traber (2018): Mehrheitsfähigkeit der Altersvorsorge 2020: Die Bewertung der Reformelemente durch die Stimmbürgerinnen und Stimmbürger vor der Abstimmung. Swiss Political Science Review 24(1): 69-78. pdf | abstract

Nach einem mehr als f€unf Jahre dauernden Gesetzgebungsprozess ist die Vorlage «Altersvorsorge 2020» zur Reform der ersten und zweiten S€aule der Schweizerischen Altersrentenversicherung im September 2017 in der Volksabstimmung gescheitert. Dies obwohl die Finanzierungsszenarien einen klaren Sicherungsbedarf ausweisen, und obwohl fast 90 Prozent der Stimmb€urgerinnen und Stimmb€urger Reformen in der Altersvorsorge f€ur notwendig halten. Es liegt daher auf der Hand, dass Bundesrat und Parlament in den kommenden Jahren dem Souver€an weitere Reformvorhaben unterbreiten werden. Wie sollen diese Reformen aus Sicht der Stimmb€urgerinnen und Stimmb€urger ausgestaltet sein? Welches sind mehrheitsf€ahige und welches sind umstrittene Elemente?…