Attitudinal Polarization Towards the Redistributive Role of the State in the Wake of the COVID-19 Crisis


The COVID-19 crisis presents a unique opportunity to study how public opinion towards the redistributive role of the state reacts to a major economic shock. The pandemic and the measures taken to stop it exposed citizens to both increased fiscal constraint and heightened redistributive capacity: historical drops in GDP (and fiscal revenue) coincided with unprecedented increases in public spending on healthcare provisions and social policy, as well as staggering amounts of financial liquidity provided to hard-hit economic sectors. How did this affect citizens’ attitudes towards redistribution and their assessments of the capacity of the state to intervene? To tackle these questions, we rely on a two-wave panel survey fielded in Germany, Sweden, and Spain in late 2018 and June 2020. While preferred levels of redistribution have remained largely stable, our results indicate major shifts and growing ideological polarization around perceptions of welfare state efficiency and capacity, of fiscal constraint, as well as on political trust. Hence, the COVID-crisis has so far neither led to a left- nor a right-shift in citizens’ desired level of state intervention, but to an increasingly polarized context of (re)distributive politics, which is likely to imply heightened conflict over economic and social policy in the future.

Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 31(S1), 41-55
Reto Bürgisser
Reto Bürgisser
Postdoctoral Researcher

My research interests include political economy, comparative politics, and political behavior.