Project A6:

Welfare state reform support from below: linking individual attitudes and organized interests in Europe


Jun.-Prof. Dr. Katja Möhring


Elias Naumann, PhD / Maximiliane Reifenscheid


Prof. Dr. Bernhard Ebbinghaus / Prof. Dr. Timo Weishaupt / Prof. Dr. Claus Wendt

 Duration:01.01.2018 - 31.12.2021



Public opinion and “vested” organised interests are seen as major obstacles to changing the status quo of social policies. Far-reaching reforms of welfare states are politically risky for governments, as they have to fear electoral backlash and opposition from interest groups. The long-term goal of the project is to analyse the positioning of organised interests and public opinion on social policy reform issues as well as the feedback of reforms on individual attitudes and collective interest strategies. In the second phase, it plans to investigate the interaction in the positioning of organised interests, public opinion and also political actors on popular versus contentious social policy issues. The project studies three important social policy fields that vary in popularity and interest cleavages: pensions, healthcare, and unemployment. Based on selfconducted interviews with organised interest representatives, multivariate analyses of survey data, and also secondary analyses of party sources, the positioning of collective, individual and political actors in respect to social policy reforms is examined. By comparing selected European countries, in particular, Germany, Britain and France, the project maps different welfare state settings and interest intermediation systems in order to show their impact on the political economy of welfare state reform. The project also participates in the German Internet Panel, conducting modules on social policy reforms over time. The project contributes to the SFB’s overall theme by focusing on the impact of different institutional contexts on individual and collective actors’ positioning on social policy reform issues in a comparative and dynamic perspective.


Aim and goals

The main goal of Phase II is to study the contentious politics of organised interests and public opinion vis-àvis political actors in shaping social policy reforms, making three further contributions. First, it will widen the social policy fields by extending the study of pension and healthcare, two rather popular policy fields, by including also unemployment policies. This is a rather contentious policy field in which unions (allegedly) need to reconcile potentially contentious interests of insiders and outsiders (Rueda 2006), employers may prefer deregulation and activation over welfare support, and voters may be more concerned about benefit abuse by “undeserving” benefit recipients. Second, we extend our analysis to political actors, analysing the positioning of the political parties in government and the main opposition parties in parliament vis-à-vis public opinion and organised interests. We thus seek to understand the support for (or opposition to) reforms as represented by organised interests and the patterns of public opinion, and how these interests are taken on by political actors in the political decision-making process. Finally, the project will evaluate the enacted reform (the policy output), in respect to the initial positions of organised interests, public opinion and the political actors. It will thus consider also the electoral logic in the political channel in addition to continuing investigating the membership logic and intermediation logic of organised interests in the corporate channel, which was already investigated during Phase I.