SOCIAL WELFARE policy in the United States is made in a sea of hostility, a point made well by Blendon et al1 in their article in this issue of the Archives. Americans, in contrast to Europeans, see no strong governmental responsibility for the poor; they fear that welfare breaks up families and discourages work; and they view the problems of welfare recipients as isolated from their lives.
Because the peak of antiwelfare sentiment in 1994 coincided with the triumph of Congressional Republicans, it is easy to believe that it is public opinion that is moving the current welfare reform debate. However, American attitudes toward welfare are far from simple. We need to disentangle the following three elements of public opinion: long-term predispositions in the public, shorter-term cycles of public opinion, and a set of underlying social dilemmas that are symbolically linked to welfare.
See also page 1065
Stern MJ. The Three Faces of WelfarePublic Opinion and the Debate Over Reform. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1995;149(10):1059–1060. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1995.02170230013001