Symbolism versus policy learning: Public opinion of the 1996 U.S. welfare reforms

Andrea Hetling, Monika L. McDermott, Mingus Mapps

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The logic of democracy rests on the assumption that policymakers respond to public preferences, which, in turn, respond to policy developments. We address the question of how policy might affect public opinion by analyzing public opinion before and after the 1996 U.S. Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. We hypothesized that changes made by the legislation would have improved opinions of welfare recipients. Using U.S. surveys from 1994 and 2001, we find that public opinion was more positive postreform and that the change was because of the enactment of welfare reform itself, not any perceived program success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-357
Number of pages23
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Political learning
  • Public opinion
  • Public policy
  • Symbolic politics
  • Welfare policy
  • Welfare reform


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