The Radical Right and the Welfare State

Yannis Papadopoulos and me have a new article on the populist radical right and welfare state reforms in Switzerland, in which we compare the role of the Swiss SVP in pensions and unemployment reforms. A few highlights:

  • Voters of populist radical right parties have different preferences in different social security schemes. Using data from the Swiss electoral surveys Selects, we find that voters of the Swiss People’s Party are the most in favour of cuts in unemployment benefit spending, but also the most in favour of more spending on old age pensions (graph above). Hence, they are more liberal than other right-wing parties when it comes to unemployment, but more social when it comes to pensions. We explain this by the central role of the idea of “deservingness” among this group of voters: pensioners are seen as “deserving”, while the unemployed are seen as lazy. This echoes research on the Tea party in the US.

Mean position of voters of Swiss parties on pension and unemployment spending

  • Populist right-wing party elites may have clear preferences on welfare, but they clearly emphasise the issues that they “own” and on which voters trust them more. This is a rational strategy in the light of the trade-offs that they face between office (cooperation with other right-wing parties may entail cuts in important social schemes) and votes (their voters like traditional social insurance schemes):

In welfare state reform we have invested a lot of energy, but one has to admit that we have often lost [in popular votes]. This is why we don’t really put forward health policy reform, in which we have often lost, or the social insurance systems. This doesn’t mean that we don’t fight for it [in parliament] with the same state of mind. But when it comes to leading an electoral campaign, it’s clear that we have a strategy to lead the battle where it suits us, that is, immigration and public safety issues” (Interview with former SVP MP)


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