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Slimming down the Giant. Public Responses to Welfare State Reduction in Sweden.

Conference contribution
Authors Anna Bendz
Published in XVII Nordic Political Science Congress, August 12-15 2014, Gothenburg
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


The Swedish welfare state is well known for its considerable size. Although this is still true, the recent development has brought a reduction of the scope of the state’s responsibility for welfare. The increased privatisation of welfare services means that the public sector no longer has monopoly on providing welfare services. This change affects people in their daily lives and is likely to have feedback effects for how the welfare state and the government is perceived by public opinion. The aim of this paper is to investigate to what extent and in what way the public responds to policy that reduces the scope of the welfare state. In order to gain legitimacy for welfare state policy, it is vital that politicians represent the public in parliament. A necessary condition for representative democracy to work is that the public reacts on policy change, since decision makers otherwise has little incentive to represent public opinion. Theoretically this paper departs from models of policy feedback, focusing on public responsiveness. One hypothesis is that policy changes peoples’ preferences, due to personal experiences of a program. A contradictive assumption is that people respond thermostatically to policy changes. The paper contributes to the theoretical knowledge concerning public responsiveness as a part of the democratic process as well as to the consequences of major welfare policy change, by using Sweden, where welfare policy is salient and politically significant, as a case. The empirical investigation uses a unique dataset that makes it possible to measure public reactions in several welfare policy areas and during a long time period. The results shows that people seem to respond to welfare policy change and over time both positive and negative feedback processes seem to be in motion.

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