Effects of Transformation in the U.S. Welfare State on the Distribution of Political Voice, 1973-2007

Other External Scholars:
Suzanne Mettler, Syracuse University
Project Date:
Jun 2007
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Social, Political, and Economic Inequality

Over the past thirty years, there has been a significant change in the federal government’s distribution of taxes and transfers, largely in favor of the elderly and the affluent. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler conjectures that this shift may have affected the ways that different groups of citizens experience and participate in the political process. If so, the historic change in the welfare state may have influenced not only economic inequality, but political inequality as well.


Mettler hypothesizes that over time the political participation of program beneficiaries is likely to be directly related to changes in the real value of program benefits. Based on compelling preliminary evidence, she predicts that participants in programs that have declined in recent years will be less politically active. With support from the Foundation, Mettler intends to carry out additional research examining the political effects of social program participation. She will conduct a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 adults, asking 120 questions about benefit receipt, political participation, and attitudes about social policy. Mettler will also conduct in-depth interviews with 30-40 individuals drawn from each age and income group. She will then combine the results of the survey and interviews, along with data on changes in social programs, to examine how changes in the form and generosity of public provision have influenced attitudes toward government, and political participation. Mettler’s findings will be reported in several journal articles and a book.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


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