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It could happen to you: how perceptions of personal risk shape support for social welfare policy in the American States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 May 2019

Kerri Milita
Department of Politics & Government, Illinois State University, USA E-mail:
Jaclyn Bunch
Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, University of South Alabama, USA E-mail:
Sara Yeganeh
Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University, USA E-mail:


Is public support for social welfare programs’ contingent on an individual’s exposure to risk? Prior work has examined whether tough economic times lead people to “reach out” (i.e. become more accepting of government expansion of social welfare programs) or “pull back” (i.e. become less supportive of welfare). However, these studies do not account for the conditional relationship between an individual’s exposure to risk and his or her risk orientation. Using new survey data, we find that an individual’s risk orientation moderates the relationship between risk exposure and public support for welfare spending. When individuals perceive exposure to economic risk, those who are risk averse are highly supportive of welfare expansion; those who are risk acceptant become less supportive. Broadly, these findings suggest that public support for welfare spending is contingent on whether an individual perceives exposure to risk and, if so, the individual’s propensity to tolerate that risk.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2019

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