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date: 16 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Public opinion alone cannot explain the trajectory of American social policy, but it is crucial in explaining the nature of social provision. Although most Americans are not highly knowledgeable about or interested in politics, and although their opinions are often shaped by misinformation, misperception, and framing effects, public opinion can offer broad guidance to politicians. Indeed, American social policy reflects majority preferences in a variety of ways: in the differential generosity of programs for "deserving" and "undeserving" target populations; in the extensive use of hidden and obscured modes of social provision such as tax expenditures; and in the modest degree of redistribution the American welfare state achieves. In addition, attentive and well-resourced members of the public, who receive the largest benefits from the system, have successfully prevented retrenchment attempts. Public opinion typically operates in conjunction with other factors, such as interest group influence or the institutional structure of the American system, to shape social policy outcomes.

Keywords: public opinion, constituencies, social policy, redistribution, retrenchment, hidden welfare state

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