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A Public Transformed? Welfare Reform as Policy Feedback

  • JOE SOSS (a1) and SANFORD F. SCHRAM (a2)


This article analyzes the strategic use of public policy as a tool for reshaping public opinion. In the 1990s, “progressive revisionists” argued that, by reforming welfare, liberals could free the Democratic Party of a significant electoral liability, reduce the race-coding of poverty politics, and produce a public more willing to invest in anti-poverty efforts. Connecting this argument to recent scholarship on policy feedback, we pursue a quantitative case study of the potential for new policies to move public opinion. Our analysis reveals that welfare reform in the 1990s produced few changes in mass opinion. To explain this result, we propose a general framework for the analysis of mass feedback effects. After locating welfare as a “distant-visible” case in this framework, we advance four general propositions that shed light on our case-specific findings as well as the general conditions under which mass feedback effects should be viewed as more or less likely.


Corresponding author

Joe Soss is Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin—Madison, 110 North Hall, 1050 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706 (
Sanford F. Schram is Visiting Professor, Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, Bryn Mawr College, 300 Airdale Road, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010-1697 (


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A Public Transformed? Welfare Reform as Policy Feedback

  • JOE SOSS (a1) and SANFORD F. SCHRAM (a2)


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