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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Public Attitudes Towards Unemployment Policies in Western Europe. Why Political Sophistication should not be Neglected when Analysing Labour Market Divides

Flavia Fossati
Université de Lausanne
Flavia Fossati
Université de Lausanne

In the current times of economic crisis, unemployment and the measures to fight it are prominent topics in the European countries’ public debates. Whereas the scholarly literature focused on both the public perception of the unemployed as a group of welfare state beneficiaries and the impact of unemployment on the attitudes towards welfare state programmes (van Oorschot 1998 and 2006; Larsen 2008, Taylor-Gooby 1985; Blekesaune and Quadagno 2003), less attention has been paid to studying public attitudes towards specific labour market and unemployment reduction policies (Bonoli 2001). The present contribution addresses this shortcoming and analyzes the structure of labour market policy preferences and the factors determining unemployment policy attitudes in six Western European countries by means of a novel online survey dataset (Kriesi et al. 2011).
The first hypothesis is that depending on the level of political sophistication the preference structure differs. Second, I expect that the highly sophisticated base their attitudes on ideological factors and values, whereas the low-sophisticated rely on deservingness-perceptions and on self-interest. The result suggests that the unemployment policy preference structure indeed depend on the level of sophistication. Furthermore, the analyses reveal that highly-sophisticated people rely, not only on ideological factors and on values, but also on deservingness-heuristics to form their attitudes. The low-sophisticated respondents instead rely on deservingness-heuristics and additionally on values. This paper suggests that education and sophistication, besides determining individual chances on the labour market, also affect the perception of political-economic options and hence have implications on whether low-skilled people possess the pre-requisites to choose the right political representatives.
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