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Media attention, public opinion and welfare retrenchment: capturing chaos and ambiguity

Menno Fenger
Department of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Menno Fenger
Department of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Martijn Van Der Steen
Open Panel

Abstract

There are two rivaling, but more or less accepted, theoretical perspectives on the relation between media, public opinion and welfare retrenchment. The first perspective claims that welfare cutbacks are in general unpopular with media and the public opinion. The second perspective claims that welfare cutbacks might gain support if they contribute to a clearer separation of deserving and undeserving potential benefiters. However, from an extensive analysis of over 1.000 media articles on social policies we have gotten the impression that the relation between public opinions, is much more chaotic and ambiguous that both theoretical perspectives suggest. For example, we came upon the case of the Ivorian football player Bonaventura Kalou, who wanted to represent the Dutch football team. His case triggered a discussion on the working permits policies of the Dutch government. Another examples is the case of sexual harassment in sheltered workplaces. This case also received wide media attention and triggered a debate on the system of sheltered work policies in general. The goal of this paper is to assess the mutual relation between public preferences, media attention and welfare state change. It focuses on three domains of social policies: social assistance, sheltered work and labor market regulation. Starting from a large set of newspaper articles it identifies to what extent these articles either shape or react to changes in public preferences or in the policy programs. It tries to identify a limited number of ideal-typical interaction processes between dynamics in media attention, public opinion and social policies. In this manner, we try to contribute to more inductive perspectives on the relation between media attention, public opinions and welfare retrenchment.