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Comparative Public Opinion on Distributive Justice

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The Thatcher and Reagan revolutions initiated a decade of pro-market reforms in a large number of countries. The decade of liberalism was capped by the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe. In the countries where the Left remained in power, most notably in the form of social democracy, a similar shift was observed - reforms that abolished state ownership and government regulation and introduced market principles were introduced. In many countries new inequities grew as a consequence of shifts in policy. We have investigated if public opinion has reacted against the policy direction by putting a renewed emphasis on egalitarian goals and increasing the support for government intervention. Alternatively, a hypothesis of adaption sees mass opinion as adjusting to the shifts of the policy elites. The main finding based on analysis of data from the International Social Survey Programme is stability, but with a slight increase in a pro-equality direction. This change is most pervasive in the United States, making this country less exceptional in public policy preferences than what the conventional wisdom suggests. The cross-national patterns of equality beliefs show that the publics of the former communist nations of Eastern Europe remain quite egalitarian in attitudes, demonstrating, at least for Poland and Hungary, where appropriate data are available, that the egalitarian attitudes did not disappear with the political regime.

Affiliations: 1: The Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway


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