Recent political history has shown that conservative leaders in the United States tend to vote against expanding federal welfare or social safety net programs. But are conservative-leaning citizens less likely than their liberal-leaning peers to enroll in these programs and accept help for themselves?

That’s the question Virginia Tech’s Shreyans Goenka answered with his recent published research, “Are Conservatives less likely than Liberals to accept welfare?” The psychology of welfare politics.

“This research shows that conservatives are less likely than liberals to enroll in federal welfare programs only when the welfare program does not have a work requirement policy,” Goenka said.

Shreyan Goenka is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Pamlin College of Business. His research focuses on consumer morality. It examines how moral beliefs shape consumption preferences and economic models. In doing so, her research produces implications for understanding how morality can help inform policy decisions, marketing positioning strategies, and prosocial campaigns.

The researchers analyzed how take-up rates for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, were influenced by a change in work requirement policy. When SNAP had a work requirement from 2005 to 2008, Republican-leaning states and Democratic-leaning states had similar levels of welfare take-up. However, when the work requirement was removed from 2009 to 2013, Republican-leaning states had lower welfare take-up levels than Democratic-leaning states.

Follow-up controlled experiments show that conservatives believe it is morally wrong to accept welfare if they are not contributing to society in some way.

“Conservatives tend to believe that accepting welfare without reciprocal work can make them a ‘burden’ on society,” Goenka explained. “Consequently, conservatives are less likely than liberals to enroll in welfare programs without working conditions.”

Importantly, the research also shows how policy makers can use messaging marketing strategies to boost conservative participation in welfare.

“When welfare pamphlets highlight how welfare programs can serve the interest of society as a whole, conservative welfare enrollment increases,” Goenka added. “Policymakers can use this research to rethink social assistance marketing materials and boost uptake in social assistance programs.”


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