The Welfare State in Transition
Do voters punish political parties that propose and/or implement welfare retrenchment?
Nathalie Giger et al has conducted a series of studies that suggest that that the empirical evidence in support of a central assumption in the "New Politics" theory is weak at best: Voters do not seem to punish government parties that have implemented welfare retrenchment that harshly. These studies have many strong points, but I will argue
that they also have serious methodological problems.
Most importantly, I argue that voters cannot be expected to punish governments for welfare retrenchment that they are not aware of. Many of the reforms Giger et al study are by and large what I would call untransparent (cf. Lindbom 2007). When estimating voter punishment, we should focus on transparent retrenchment. The independent variable in my study is closures of emergency wards in Swedish health care. The closures are an extremely transparent type of retrenchment.
Studying variation within Sweden holds a number of contextual variables constant. Furthermore, since Swedish general elections on three levels take place on the same day, there are also considerable possibilities to isolate the electoral effects of unpopular reform proposals made on the intermediate level responsible for health care.
The projects main focus is on the cuts and reforms of the welfare state in Sweden during the last two decades.
These have been and will be studied from different perspectives:
1. What can explain the variance between cutbacks between different transfers to households.
2. Has the Swedish welfare state been dismantled? Why (not)?
3. What explains the outcome of the Swedish pension reform?
4. Why has housing policy been partically targetted for cutbacks.
These different perspectives call for some different explanatory factors: intransparency of cutbacks, strength of pensioners' organisations, and path-dependence.