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Diminished Expectations

Redistributive Preferences in Truncated Welfare States

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 August 2018


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In Latin America, the relationship between income and support for redistribution is weak and variable despite the region's extreme income inequality. This article shows that this condition is rooted in the truncated structure of many Latin American welfare states. Heavy spending on contributory social insurance for formal-sector workers, flat or regressive subsidies, and informal access barriers mean that social spending does far less for the poor in Latin America than it does in advanced industrial economies. Using public opinion data from across Latin America and original survey data from Colombia, the author demonstrates that income is less predictive of attitudes in the countries and social policy areas in which the poor gain less from social expenditures. Social policy exclusion leads the poor to doubt that they will benefit from redistribution, thereby dampening their support for it. The article reverses an assumption in political economy models that welfare exclusion unleashes demands for greater redistribution. Instead, truncation reinforces skepticism about social policy helping the poor. Welfare state reforms to promote social inclusion are essential to strengthen redistributive coalitions.

Research Article
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2018 



I am grateful to Andy Baker, Sarah Berens, Charlotte Cavaillé, Emily Clough, David Doyle, Yanilda González, Frances Hagopian, Peter Hall, Torben Iversen, Kyle Jaros, Herbert Kitschelt, Steven Levitsky, Juan Pablo Luna, Brian Palmer-Rubin, Ben Ross Schneider, Hillel Soifer, Glen Weyl, Erik Wibbels; three anonymous reviewers; the editors of World Politics; and participants at workshops at Duke University, Harvard University, the American Political Science Association, and the Latin American Studies Association for helpful comments on previous versions. Sam Maeglin, Lucy Msall, and Madai Urteaga provided excellent research assistance. I thank the Latin American Public Opinion Project and its major supporters (the United States Agency for International Development, the Inter- American Development Bank, and Vanderbilt University) for making the data available and for a small research grant. A National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship (DEG 0644491) and dissertation improvement grant (1263778) supported the field research and data collection in Colombia.

Replication data for this article are available at Holland 2018a.


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