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Paying Attention to Politics. Public Responsiveness and Welfare Policy Change.

Journal article
Authors Anna Bendz
Published in Policy Studies Journal
Volume 43
Issue 3
Pages 309-332
ISSN 0190-292X
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 309-332
Language en
Keywords Welfare policy, policy feedback, thermostatic model, primary health care
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


In order for the democratic process to work properly, it is vital that the public pays attention to politics and signals its opinions and preferences back to its representatives; if this is not the case, representatives have less incentive to represent. This article deals with the question of whether and how the public responds to welfare policy change. The thermostatic model departs from the assumption that the public responds to policy change with negative feedback, in relation to its preferred level of policy. The empirical analysis tests this model on public responses following the implementation of a consumer’s choice model in Swedish primary health care. Did the reform trigger a thermostatic response from the public, and how should this be interpreted? A contribution in relation to previous research is the inclusion of ideological orientation and proximity, variables which, I argue, condition the nature and direction of public responsiveness. The study was designed as a natural experiment in which preferences of privatization of health care were measured before and after the health care reform of 2009/2010. The results provide partial support for the thermostatic model: preferences for further privatization decrease after the reform, but primarily within one subgroup. Additionally, public responses are demonstrated to vary according to ideological orientation, where the right-oriented react thermostatically and the left-oriented do not. The article contributes to a further understanding of the relation between policy making and public opinion and to the expansion of thermostatic theory.

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