Bootstrapping Young Lads
December 10, 2013 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Just two sentences make Americans as pro-welfare as Danes People’s attitudes to welfare depend on their perceptions of welfare recipients. If they believe that welfare recipients are lazy, they are unlikely to support welfare. If they believe that welfare recipients are making an effort to find work, they are likely to take a different attitude. Aarøe and Petersen conducted survey experiments in the United States and Denmark to investigate whether stereotypes shaped Danish and European attitudes. They randomly exposed some participants in both countries to canned information suggesting that a welfare recipient was lazy, others to information suggesting that a welfare recipient was motivated to find work, and others to no substantial information about the recipient. They then asked people to evaluate social welfare benefits. On average, Americans were considerably more likely to associate welfare with laziness than Danes. But what’s interesting is that these stereotypes were largely overwhelmed by the canned information when it was available. When the man on welfare was described in the following terms: "He has always had a regular job, but has now been the victim of a work-related injury. He is very motivated to get back to work again" the differences between Americans and Danes disappeared. Both were largely willing to support social welfare measures.

Link to paper: Crowding Out Culture: Scandinavians and Americans Agree on Social Welfare in the Face of Deservingness Cues

Review of Martin Gilens's book, Why Americans Hate Welfare.

Why do Americans still hate welfare?
posted by MisantropicPainforest (29 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's not clear from the first link, but upon perusing the paper, it seems that the question being asked is whether or not this particular hypothetical person should receive welfare benefits. (As opposed to priming the subject with a description of an individual welfare recipient and then asking "Would you support a federal welfare program that would provide benefits to this person?")

That being the case, I find the results unsurprising. I'm pretty sure most Americans would support a robust welfare program so long as they could be entirely sure that only the right* people are receiving benefits.

* Where "right" can varyingly mean that only people who are genuinely seeking work get benefits, or that only people who are willing to show an appropriate amount of shame (compare "Welfare Queens") receive benefits, or, to be honest, that only white people receive benefits.
posted by 256 at 10:50 AM on December 10, 2013 [22 favorites]


from the link to the review... just wow. talk about messaging...

The book's most original contribution is to demonstrate quite ingeniously the distorting impact of the media's focus on urban poverty. Media images of the poor are disproportionately black. While African Americans make up about 30 percent of the poor, about 60 percent of the poor people shown on network television news and depicted in the major newsweeklies between 1988 and 1992 were black. Similarly, the media portray the black poor in a disproportionately negative light. Every single picture in newsweekly stories about the "underclass"--the ghetto poor--between 1950 and 1992 showed African Americans, Gilens finds. In more sympathetic stories about predicaments such as hunger or medical care among the poor, only about one-fourth of the people pictured were black.
posted by sio42 at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2013 [17 favorites]


Republicans have based their talking points on the fundamental principles for decades. Strategists like Frank Luntz have based their careers on it. Framing, yo.
posted by ardgedee at 11:01 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


(Sorry, that sounded dismissive and I didn't mean it to be... That the mechanics of the messaging have been firmly in the control of only one side of the debate in the U.S. is disheartening. That the messaging can be overturned is encouraging.)
posted by ardgedee at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks: make an effort to be conscious of your words and the fact that you are commenting on MetaFilter. If you just want to fight about welfare this is NOT YOUR THREAD, okay?]
posted by jessamyn at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2013


I think the trick the Republicans have up their sleeves that the Democrats don't on the messaging is that, with the Democrats, the politicians may be framing their own messaging in an effective way, but the Republican politicians follow the messaging that's been field-tested in their partisan media instead of trying to test it out for traction themselves. Elizabeth Warren might be saying some very powerful things and the media will report on those after she says them, but Elizabeth Warren doesn't have a morning chat show during the "news entertainment" block on FOX and a whole host of partisan blogs trotting out those ideas first, which allows the "actual news" block of FOX to say "people have been talking about X, let's have politician Y weigh in with their take on it." The Democrats try to wrestle the conversation over to their talking points, the Republicans have that all on cruise control.

And with these welfare framing observations in particular, it's very easy for someone to hold up a stereotypical welfare recipient as an example, but good luck finding real people willing to step into the spotlight and talk about how welfare helped them, to counter the stereotype. Even if they didn't feel an ounce of the shame that American culture would try to hang on them, they'd still get brutalized and deeply, invasively scrutinized in the media.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Related: Race, Sophistication, and White Opinion on Government Spending
This article has developed and tested a theory of how whites think and reason about government spending. First, I have argued that attitudes toward government spending on the undeserving poor are distinct from attitudes toward spending on the deserving poor, presumably because people pick up on the contrast made between these groups in political discourse. The confirmatory factor analysis results provide strong support for this hypothesis. Opinion reports on the welfare and food stamp items derive from one underlying orientation, and responses to the poor people and homeless items derive from a second orientation. Thus, the public thinks of government spending not as a single issue, but rather, as two separate (though related) issues.

Second, I have posited that political sophistication strengthens the relationship between racial stereotypes and attitudes toward government spending on the undeserving poor, and that it does not affect the impact stereotypes have on attitudes toward spending on the deserving poor. The statistical evidence is consistent with these expectations. The racial stereotype × sophistication variable is positive, statistically significant, and substantively meaningful in the welfare/food stamps spending models, and it is statistically insignificant in the poor/homeless spending models. Put differently, when domestic spending targets the undeserving poor, sophisticated whites rely more heavily than unsophisticated whites on racial stereotypes to constrain spending opinions, presumably because they are more cognizant of the racial frame of reference that animates media discourse on the worst aspects of poverty. But when spending aids the deserving poor, sophisticated whites do not rely more than unsophisticated whites on stereotypes to render spending opinions. Given that media discourse on the deserving poor has not been racialized to the extent that discourse on the undeserving poor has, the lack of a sophistication effect makes sense. Finally, most of the remaining sophistication multiplicative terms are insignificant, which supports the inference that the observed stereotype × sophistication effect cannot be attributed to a systematic propensity for sophistication to promote reliance on predispositions. Sophistication promotes the use of stereotypes and little else.

[...]

Furthermore, this distinction matters politically. [...] my results demonstrate that only sophisticated whites rely on stereotypes to guide their positions on government spending on the undeserving poor. Hence, politicians who play the "race card" to undermine support for welfare will not move white opinion en masse. Instead, implicit racial appeals work most effectively on politically and economically privileged whites. Given that these citizens are the most likely to participate in politics and the least likely to benefit from welfare, they surely exert disproportionate influence in pushing policymakers in an antiwelfare direction.

Furthermore, government spending on welfare is an "easy" issue: it is symbolic, deals heavily with policy ends, and has been on the agenda for a very long time (Carmines and Stimson, 1980). Citizens hold genuine attitudes on the issue. Given the universal recognition of this stereotype and the ease with which it can be applied to welfare opinion, it may seem implausible that sophistication would promote its use. Nevertheless, this is precisely what the empirical results have shown (cf. Federico, 2002). How is this possible?

Following Chong (1996), I believe the answer centers on the power of a common frame of reference to shape how the sophisticated reason about certain issues. Media discourse on the undeserving poor is dominated by negative images of blacks. Which subset of the public encounters this common frame most frequently? The politically sophisticated. And which subset of the public is most skilled at retaining what they have been exposed to? The politically sophisticated. The constant repetition of the same message, that the undeserving poor are overwhelmingly black, leads sophisticated whites to view federal antipoverty efforts on behalf of the undeserving poor in terms of race. More broadly, these results present a challenge to theories positing that factors internal to individual psyches largely drive policy reasoning. External factors, such as the nature of public discourse, must be considered as well. In short, characteristics of citizens and issues interact to shape mass policy reasoning.

Finally, this research has implications for evaluating democratic citizenship. Sophisticated citizens are especially likely to approximate citizenship ideals. Sophistication promotes political interest and participation, support for democratic norms, political tolerance, and so on (Delli Carpini and Keeter, 1996). Nevertheless, it seems clear that sophistication can produce deleterious outcomes as well. While analysts take comfort in findings that sophistication promotes reliance on predispositions, such enthusiasm may be tempered when the predisposition involved can be used to justify animosity and discrimination toward traditionally disadvantaged groups. The fact that whites' attitudes toward government spending on the undeserving poor depend on negative stereotypes is unsettling enough (Gilens, 1999), but the finding that the most politically active rely most heavily on antiblack stereotypes is even more troubling.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


All of us believe in some level of deserving, I think. "Jane has had two six-figure job offers this week but has refused both of them because it would take time away from her playing World of Warcraft, should we pay her expenses for her?" Well, no, because if she's totally capable of being self-supporting then she will be if she needs to be. But Jane isn't a real person. When the media messaging you get is full of made-up people who are only on assistance because they haven't bothered to get jobs, that has a huge impact on public opinion. I don't think we really have that much disagreement about who deserves assistance.

If you tell someone the whole story of a struggling person then ask if they should have to sleep out in the cold tonight, not a lot of people will say yes. But they aren't hearing those stories, they're hearing about Jane and how much of her fictional SNAP benefits she's spending on fictional lobster. I bet if you ask the Danes about her, they won't necessarily be in favor of paying her bills, either.
posted by Sequence at 11:28 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I bet if you ask the Danes about her, they won't necessarily be in favor of paying her bills, either.

Someone should do that! I'd be interested in reading that study.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:33 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


When having this debate with right-wingers, they always have anecdotes ready about people abusing the system. When you point out that there is empirical data indicating the welfare fraud rate is actually a small percentage of total spending (~5%, though it's complicated) it doesn't matter to them, because their uncle Bob's "lazy" neighbor spent a year on government assistance. You can't really argue with people who's unshakable belief in the Just World Fallacy blinds them to actual evidence.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:37 AM on December 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


If we devoted more funds to social programs they would be able to investigate more fraud while still helping people who aren't defrauding the system, but, y'know, that doesn't really fly either in that argument.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:41 AM on December 10, 2013


Personally, though, fuck it, I'd accept much, much higher rates of fraud as long as there are actual people who need the help getting helped as well. It's still got a long ways to go to be as much of a charade as the low-paying jobs available to people in those situations.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:43 AM on December 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


For the right wing, it's not even about "fraud" (although the amount of fraud, as Thoughtcrime pointed out, is probably minimal). They're against people using these social services as intended as well.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you point out that there is empirical data indicating the welfare fraud rate is actually a small percentage of total spending...it doesn't matter to them

The same thing happens when you point out something similar about voter fraud and their "use a cannon to kill a fly" proposals for dealing with the same.

It's almost, almost, like there's a pattern to their beliefs and reactions....
posted by lord_wolf at 11:47 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh man i LOVE saying "what voter fraud?" and making people sputter.

I need to memorize some stats on welfare fraud and commence with more sputter-making.
posted by sio42 at 12:16 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


step into the spotlight and talk about how welfare helped them

Even when they got the help, they often don't think they got help.
"I've been on food stamps and welfare. Did anyone help me out ? No."
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:23 PM on December 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thoughtcrime: "When having this debate with right-wingers, they always have anecdotes ready about people abusing the system. When you point out that there is empirical data indicating the welfare fraud rate is actually a small percentage of total spending (~5%, though it's complicated) it doesn't matter to them, because their uncle Bob's "lazy" neighbor spent a year on government assistance. ."

This a million times...

It's anecdotes all the way down!

That said, yeah, give Jane a house and food, shelter and clothes, education and communication tools.

Gotta go - else I might get too angry thinking about this shit :\
posted by symbioid at 12:31 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of us believe in some level of deserving, I think.

No, this is not true of everyone's politics at all: this is still framed by the exact ideological problem under discussion, that food and shelter and social services are framed moralistically as things that need to be earned, rather than as basic human rights that everyone should be afforded regardless of who they are and how they behave.

This is the reason that universal social benefits (e.g. universal health care, public education, social security, guaranteed basic income) are so much better as political propositions. If everyone gets the benefit, then the welfare-queen scaremongering routine about the undeserving, morally suspect nature of the recipients is precluded from the start.
posted by RogerB at 12:32 PM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


...or that only people who are willing to show an appropriate amount of shame (compare "Welfare Queens") receive benefits, or, to be honest, that only white people receive benefits.

This doesn't seem fair, nor true, and it seems to fly in the face of the findings in question. It seems to me that the people I know (or knew, back home) who were largely anti-welfare *were* anti-welfare precisely because they thought that lots of people were cheating the system.

Instead of making up stories about the people who disagree with the MeFi orthodoxy on this, shouldn't we be happy that this post suggests that we've got in-principle agreement with them, and only differ on some fairly easily-settled matters of fact?

I sometimes deploy the following consideration when my elitist friends express disdain for the attitudes of the people I grew up with on such points: my elitist friends mostly have cushy, rewarding jobs--sorry...careers...--that pay well. The folks back home, the folks that are skeptical of welfare, mostly have hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous jobs that they don't like, that they work their fingers to the bone at, and that don't pay all that well.

Let me sugest that, under those conditions, it is rational to be rather more jealous of your hard-earned money... I don't typically agree with the folks back home about the final conclusion of all this, but I do agree with them on the principle that you shouldn't happily give up something you worked for to people who won't themselves work for it. What I disagree with them about is the percentage of people who get assistance because they refuse to work.

Anyway, I take this post as good news.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:33 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fists O'Fury: "shouldn't we be happy that this post suggests that we've got in-principle agreement with them, and only differ on some fairly easily-settled matters of fact?"

Do you really think these matters are easily-settled? Again, let's go back to voter fraud. Credible study of the issue from many ideological viewpoints shows no appreciable amount of fraud, but the existence of a few isolated cases is enough to sustain an all-out assault on legitimate voters. Instead of arguing that the fraud is widespread (which they can't) they just change the story to suggest that any amount of fraud is unacceptable. Why would this be any different with social welfare programs?
posted by tonycpsu at 12:38 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


When having this debate with right-wingers, they always have anecdotes ready about people abusing the system. When you point out that there is empirical data indicating the welfare fraud rate is actually a small percentage of total spending (~5%, though it's complicated) it doesn't matter to them, because their uncle Bob's "lazy" neighbor spent a year on government assistance. You can't really argue with people who's unshakable belief in the Just World Fallacy blinds them to actual evidence.

This.

Then you ask "why the fuck didn't you report them"?

"Oh ummm... ahhhh... uhhh..."
posted by Talez at 12:41 PM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are forms of government based upon this "information makes you less stupid" effect, like deliberative opinion poll or legislation by jury in deliberative democracy or demarchy.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:08 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Credible study of the issue from many ideological viewpoints shows no appreciable amount of fraud, but the existence of a few isolated cases is enough to sustain an all-out assault on legitimate voters.

Nobody on the right actually cares about voter fraud. That's a cover story, but it's as fake as pro wrestling. The actual desire is to reduce the number of minorities and poor people voting and to otherwise interfere with democratic GOTV efforts.

Making it harder for people to legitimately vote is straight up undemocratic and Anti-American. It'd be swell if we could get some people on the TeeVee to actually say that, instead of buying into the narrative that Voter Fraud is a Serious Problem.

Similarly, it'd be neat if someone would start calling out so called christians for their entirely unchristlike behavior. Jesus didn't share the loaves and fishes with people he thought deserved it, he fed them all. He didn't say "whatsoever you do for the least of brothers, but only if it is properly means tested while he looks for work, that you do unto me".

Shit is fucked up. Mainly it's because the left wing has been entirely too accommodating of right wing goal shifting in a spirit of conciliation and kum-by-ya "can't we all just get along" instead of just calling out bullshit where it stands.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:18 PM on December 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


This doesn't seem fair, nor true, and it seems to fly in the face of the findings in question. It seems to me that the people I know (or knew, back home) who were largely anti-welfare *were* anti-welfare precisely because they thought that lots of people were cheating the system.

Instead of making up stories about the people who disagree with the MeFi orthodoxy on this, shouldn't we be happy that this post suggests that we've got in-principle agreement with them, and only differ on some fairly easily-settled matters of fact?


I'm amazed that people still think that (a) this has little or nothing to do with race, and (b) that "easily-settled matters of fact" is actually something that's worked with a party in which large numbers and even majorities do not believe in anthropogenic climate change, or still believe Obama is a Muslim and/or a foreigner. Anyway, to borrow from another thread:

Witch Hunt For The Welfare Queen (emphasis mine)
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Havard University published a study entitled “The Welfare Queen Experiment” in which Black and White participants watched newsclips about a lazy welfare recipient named Rhonda. Separate test groups watched news stories that showed a photo of either a black Rhonda or white Rhonda for a few seconds. Each group was also given a survey to measure attitudes toward race, gender and welfare. White participants showed a 10% increase in anti-black sentiments when Rhonda was Black and surprisingly, an increase of 12% when Rhonda was White. This suggests that the Welfare Queen archetype and the distorted view of Black Americans on welfare is well entrenched in the White American psyche.
Inside the GOP: Report on focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans (PDF)
[W]hile few explicitly talk about Obama in racial terms, the base supporters are very conscious of being white in a country with growing minorities. Their party is losing to a Democratic Party of big government whose goal is to expand programs that mainly benefit minorities. Race remains very much alive in the politics of the Republican Party.
[...]
We expected that in this comfortable setting or in their private written notes, some would make a racial reference or racist slur when talking about the African American President. None did. They know that is deeply non-PC and are conscious about how they are perceived. But focusing on that misses how central is race to the worldview of Republican voters. They have an acute sense that they are white in a country that is becoming increasingly “minority,” and their party is getting whooped by a Democratic Party that uses big government programs that benefit mostly minorities, create dependency and a new electoral majority. Barack Obama and Obamacare is a racial flashpoint for many Evangelical and Tea Party voters.
I sometimes deploy the following consideration when my elitist friends express disdain for the attitudes of the people I grew up with on such points: my elitist friends mostly have cushy, rewarding jobs--sorry...careers...--that pay well. The folks back home, the folks that are skeptical of welfare, mostly have hard, dirty, sometimes dangerous jobs that they don't like, that they work their fingers to the bone at, and that don't pay all that well.

Let me sugest that, under those conditions, it is rational to be rather more jealous of your hard-earned money...


The most virulent conservatives I've met were earning six and seven figures, and in any case Obama actually won those making under $30k by 10 points and $30-$50k by 6, while Romney won those making $50k-$100k by 6 and $100k or more by 8. The whole "shucks, they're all just salt-of-the-earth types rebelling against you ivory tower liberals" excuse doesn't fly.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:32 PM on December 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


my elitist friends

Elitism: The belief that the government should give money and material assistance to society's poorest.

Egalitarianism: ?????????
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Similarly, it'd be neat if someone would start calling out so called christians for their entirely unchristlike behavior. Jesus didn't share the loaves and fishes with people he thought deserved it, he fed them all. He didn't say "whatsoever you do for the least of brothers, but only if it is properly means tested while he looks for work, that you do unto me".

Little guy called The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church has been going to town on that and has the right wing all a-flutter over it. Apparently, he (and Jesus) are Marxists.

It's doubly hilarious to see a bunch of Evangelical Protestants sputtering angrily about the Pope. You left, schismatics, you don't get a say!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:27 PM on December 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


The whole "shucks, they're all just salt-of-the-earth types rebelling against you ivory tower liberals" excuse doesn't fly.

Oh come on, I hear Romney is totally the guy you can have a beer a cold glass of milk with. Just watch out though because I hear once you get some strawberry Nesquick into him he goes into his wild state where he lets out the odd "darn" and pisses standing up.
posted by Talez at 3:13 PM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just two sentences, hunh?

Must be real tongue twisters.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:40 PM on December 10, 2013


Just two sentences, hunh?

Must be real tongue twisters.


Expand welfare using this one weird trick conservatives don't want you to know!
posted by cosmic.osmo at 6:55 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


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