Nate Breznau, Carola Hommerich
The limits of inequality: Public support for social policy across rich democracies

International Journal of Social Welfare, In Press: (publ. online before print)
ISSN: ISSN 1369-6866 (print); 1468-2397 (online)

Does public opinion react to inequality, and if so, how? The social harms caused by increasing inequality should cause public opinion to ramp up demand for social welfare protections. However, the public may react to inequality differently depending on institutional context. Using ISSP and WID data (1980‒2006), we tested these claims. In liberal institutional contexts (mostly English‐speaking), increasing income inequality predicted higher support for state provision of social welfare. In coordinated and universalist contexts (mostly of Europe), increasing inequality predicted less support. Historically higher income concentration predicted less public support, providing an account of the large variation in inequality within the respective liberal and coordinated contexts. The results suggest opinions in liberal societies – especially with higher historical inequality – reached the limits of inequality, reacting negatively; whereas in coordinated/universalist societies – especially with lower historical inequality – opinions moved positively, as if desiring more inequality.