The Deserving and the Undeserving: “Heuristics” or “Automatism”?

Peter Grand, Guido Tiemann (EconPol Europe, IHS Vienna)

Voter attitudes towards the welfare state, its specific programs, or specific people who are supposed to “benefit” from the implied social transfers have always been of vital interest for discussions in the public and political spheres. In this working paper, Peter Grand and Guido Tiemann (EconPol Europe, IHS Vienna) examine public sentiments concerning the conditionality of unemployment benefits and find that opinion is influenced by the supposed level of 'deservedness', along with economic, social, and institutional context.


Recent contributions have cogently addressed the effect of public opinion on the construction and reform of social security systems. This contribution focuses on public sentiments concerning the conditionality of unemployment benefits. We exploit a vignette experiment that was embedded with Round 8 of the European Social Survey. Across the set of twenty-three different countries/survey segments, respondents were randomly assigned different vignettes that characterize the age and family status of benefit claimants who turn down job offers due to lower  payment or qualification levels or are unwilling to carry out unpaid community work in return for social transfers. Survey respondents are then inquired whether they support which level of sanctions or cuts to these benefit claimants. Our empirical findings demonstrate that deservingness cues provide strong and robust causal effects. The observational controls, which pick up material self-interest and ideological standings, are also closely linked with the outcome variable. Eventually, these effects are conditioned by the respective national contexts.


Peter Grand, Guido Tiemann: "The Deserving and the Undeserving: “Heuristics” or “Automatism”?", EconPol Working Paper 53, December 2020