Are Conservatives Less Likely Than Liberals to Accept Welfare? The Psychology of Welfare Politics


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University of Chicago Press


Research has shown that conservatives tend to oppose the distribution of welfare to other people. However, are conservatives less likely than liberals to accept welfare for themselves? We find that the difference in liberals’ and conservatives’ welfare enrollment depends on whether the welfare program has a work requirement policy. A natural field experiment shows that when the supplemental nutritional program (SNAP) had a work requirement, liberals and conservatives were equally likely to enroll in this program. In the absence of a work requirement, conservatives were less likely than liberals to enroll in it. Follow-up experiments replicate this result and demonstrate the underlying mechanism: conservatives’ adherence to binding moral values (loyalty, authority, and purity; Graham, Haidt, and Nosek 2009) makes them hesitant to accept welfare without a work requirement. Policy makers can deploy marketing messages to mitigate this effect and boost conservatives’ enrollment in such welfare programs.



Welfare programs, Low-income consumers, Political identity, Conservative ideology, Moral foundations