Although most would agree that social and political structures shape government policy toward the welfare state, Gilens argues that there is less general acceptance about the influence of public opinion. Using data from 10 different public opinion polls over an almost ten year period (1986 - 1995), Gilens examines the public opinions of Americans in relation to increasing or decreasing spending on social welfare programs (Table 1.2, p. 28). In almost every program area, the majority interviewed believes that spending should be increased. The data indicate that the general support for social welfare is not limited to just programs benefiting large numbers of Americans, such as social security and education but also for more targeted populations, such as the poor - 71 percent polled believe that spending should be increased to fight poverty (Table 1.2, p. 28). The results would seem to indicate that Americans do support social welfare programs but when asked about whether welfare spending or support for people on welfare should be increased, Americans indicated they were strongly opposed to these general programs. Sixty-three percent believe welfare spending should be decreased and 71 percent indicate spending for people on welfare should be decreased. These two results are essentially contradictory - Americans support helping the poor but do not support welfare, the primary program designed to help the poor.
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