Are universal welfare policies really more popular than selective ones? A critical discussion of empirical research. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy.
Abstract: In social policy literature, it is often assumed that universal policies are more popular than selective ones among the public, because they supposedly generate broader self-interested coalitions and are considered morally superior. This article revisits and challenges this assumption, by critically reviewing the existing empirical literature on public support for universal and means-tested welfare schemes. The main conclusion is that the popularity of universal vis-à-vis selective welfare remains very much an open question. First, the studies that are typically cited to support the claim that universalism is indeed more popular are inconclusive because they conflate the institutional design of welfare programs with their respective target groups. Second, there is considerable variation in public support for universal and selective welfare across countries, time and policy domains. These findings suggest that future research should focus on scrutinizing under which circumstances -when, where and why- universal social policies are more popular than selective ones.