The two facets of social policy preferences


Most political economy models start from the assumption that economic self-interest is a key predictor of support for income redistribution. A growing literature, in contrast, emphasizes the role of "other-oriented" concerns, such as social solidarity or affinity for the poor. These frameworks generate distinct, often conflicting predictions about variation in mass attitudes toward redistribution. We argue that this tension is in part an artifact of conceptualizing demand for redistribution as unidimensional and propose distinguishing between redistribution conceived as taking from the "rich" and redistribution conceived as giving to the "poor." These two facets of redistribution prime different individual motives: self-oriented income maximization on the one hand and other-oriented social affinity with welfare beneficiaries on the other. We find strong evidence for this framework using British longitudinal survey data and cross-sectional data from four advanced industrial countries. We discuss the implications for studying changes in mass support for redistributive social policies.

Publication Title

Journal of Politics