The illusion of class in welfare state politics?

Social class, with its potentially pivotal influence on both policy-making and electoral outcomes tied to the welfare state, is a frequent fixture in academic and political discussions about social policy. Yet these discussions presuppose that class identity is in fact tied up with distinct attitudes toward the welfare state. Using original data from ten surveys fielded in the United States and Western Europe, we investigate the relationship between class and general stances toward the welfare state as a whole, with the goal of determining whether class affects how individuals understand and relate to the welfare state. Our findings suggest that, although class markers are tied to objective and subjective positional considerations about one's place in the society, they nevertheless do not seem to shape stances toward the welfare state. What is more, this is equally true across the various welfare state types, as we find no evidence that so-called ‘middle-class welfare states’ engender more positive middle-class attitudes than other regimes. Based on our analysis, we propose that researchers would do better to focus on household income rather than class; while income may not be a perfect predictor of attitudes toward the welfare state, it is a markedly better one than class.