Do Structural Contexts Matter? Macro-sociological Factors and Popular Attitudes towards Public Welfare Services
In various earlier studies focusing on support for the welfare state, attitudinal differences have been explained by factors linked to individual social characteristics of respondents. This study focuses mainly on how macro-sociological variables influence attitudes towards the public service system in Finland. An attempt is made to investigate whether differences between municipalities in public-policy measures, political climate and the economic situation have effects on ordinary citizens' support for the service system or whether such support is only related to the individual-level factors, such as socio-economic position and gender, that are traditionally used in studies of attitudes. A focus on attitudes towards economy measures makes it possible simultaneously to investigate the kinds of municipal-level circumstances that affect the acceptance of a retrenchment of the 'service state'. The analyses are based on individual-level data (n = 1,024) and municipal-level Finnish data. The results show that different indicators of macro-sociological factors do have an impact on people's attitudes towards public services. Individuals in municipalities where economic conditions are relatively poor, where the level of social and health expenditure is low and, on some issues, where bourgeois parties are the dominating political bloc, show a lower level of support for the welfare services. However, the impact of tax policies is not that significant on any of the questions studied. The interpretation of the results includes a discussion of specific problems associated with this type of analysis.