Issue ownership theory posits that when social welfare is electorally salient, left-wing parties gain public support by rhetorically emphasizing social welfare issues. There is less research, however, on whether left-wing governing parties benefit from increasing social welfare spending. That is, it is not known whether leftist governments gain from acting on the issues they rhetorically emphasize. This article presents arguments that voters will not react to governments’ social welfare rhetoric, and reviews the conflicting arguments about how government support responds to social welfare spending. It then reports time-series, cross-sectional analyses of data on government support, governments’ social welfare rhetoric and social welfare spending from Britain, Spain and the United States, that support the prediction that government rhetoric has no effects. The article estimates, however, that increased social welfare spending sharply depresses support for both left- and right-wing governments. These findings highlight a strategic dilemma for left-wing governments, which lose public support when they act on their social welfare rhetoric by increasing welfare spending.