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07-03-2021 | Original Paper

Economic Self-Interest and Americans’ Redistributive, Class, and Racial Attitudes: The Case of Economic Insecurity

Journal:
Political Behavior
Author:
Cody R. Melcher
Important notes

Supplementary Information

The online version contains supplementary material available at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11109-021-09694-x.
A correction to this article is available online at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11109-021-09702-0.

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Abstract

An influential body of research on American public opinion since the mid-1980s has found economic self-interest to be, at best, inconsistently and weakly related to social and political attitude formation. This article argues that this conclusion is related to a dearth of analysis of the potential effect of economic insecurity on American public opinion. It is argued that respondents’ perceptions of their own economic insecurity capture the extent to which not acting self-interestedly can result in hardship-causing economic loss. Empirically, it is shown—through standard regression techniques and more stringent coarsened exact matching (CEM)—that economic insecurity has a systematic and strong effect on the redistributive, class, and racial attitudes of Americans; an effect that often rivals or supersedes the effect of sociotropic and symbolic attitudes. It is also shown that affective economic insecurity—one’s worry or anxiety regarding the potential of future economic hardship—and cognitive economic insecurity—an individual’s more or less dispassionate estimate of future economic hardship—often have distinct and complementary effects in determining public opinion, even when both measures are included in the same model. The evidence presented here makes it clear that existing measures and conceptualizations of economic self-interest—and the body of empirical work that discounts economic factors in American public opinion—need to be rethought in light of economic insecurity.

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