The legitimacy of the Swedish public sector

In the literature, the dominating approach argues that high replacement rates in the social insurances leads to high levels of middle class support for the welfare state. This idea also dominates the Swedish political debate.

But while the trend for the last 20-25 years is falling compensation levels, according to opinion data, a declining proportion of the population want to reduce the Swedish public sector. Thus, there are empirical reasons to develop the so called Paradox of redistribution (PoR). There are also theoretical reasons since the explanatory mechanism is not clearly specified.

Our project focuses on two points:

1) Citizens' knowledge of welfare policy. If citizens do not know that benefit levels have fallen, they will not react.

2) Citizens' reactions to changes in welfare policy. PoR expects declining replacement rates to lead to a vicious spiral of cuts and declining support. In public opinion research, there are however results that indicates that reactions tend to be thermostatic: declining levels of compensation lead to more people wanting to raise the levels again.

In relation to PoR, we broaden the analyses by addressing the supplementary insurance that is organized by the parties on the labor market and by including the welfare services.

The project design is both longitudinal and cross-sectional. SOM-data provides long time-series (up to 30 years) on key variables. SOM also contains information on background factors, e.g. subjective social class, which can be used to analyze the dynamics between policy and opinion in different groups. These analyses are supplemented with experimental techniques in which respondents are divided into groups that answer the same questions but have access to different background information. Our preliminary study e.g. suggests that support for raising the maximum benefit of the unemployment benefit is higher among those who were provided information on the maximum level than among those who do were not.