Nate Breznau
Simultaneous Feedback between Public Opinion and Social Policy

Workshop “Public attitudes towards and socio-political actors’ positions on labour market policies in Europe”, Universität Mannheim, 04. bis 05. Dezember 2014

This paper attempts to empirically model what scholars have long theorized: that public opinion and social policy are part of a feedback loop. It discusses two perspectives on this feedback. On the one hand, the thermostatic model suggests that social policy elicits a negative public response. On the other, a model of increasing returns suggests that both opinion and policy are positively reinforcing. The ranges of theories that constitute either perspective explicitly propose that opinion and policy are reciprocally causal. However, previous tests of hypotheses based on these theories look at either impacts of opinion on policy or impacts of policy on opinion. This paper begins to bridge this gap by constructing a model of simultaneous feedback. Then it tests for evidence of a reciprocally causal structure underlying the opinion-policy relationship using ISSP surveys, OECD social spending data and Scruggs decommodification measures. Bridging this gap remains a daunting task but this paper moves us closer both via empirical findings that give different types of support to these theoretical perspectives, and by shedding light on the many challenges in modelling simultaneous feedback.