Looking Past Laziness

The Effect of Negative Deservingness Cues on Welfare Support Across Different Levels of Issue Salience

M.Sc. thesis. June 30, 2022


My master’s thesis at University of Amsterdam.


Deservingness cues, that is descriptions of welfare recipients as unwilling to work, unreciprocating and similar, have been shown to negatively affect support for welfare spending. Crucially, this effect has been argued to diminish the positive effect of egalitarian values in the opinion formation process. This thesis explores whether increased issue salience can act as a moderator and bring values back into the equation. It does so by expanding an established experimental design on the effect of deservingness cues by an issue salience treatment. Respondents in an online experiment are exposed to news articles that differ in their share of welfare related news before reading negatively or neutrally cued descriptions of welfare recipients. Results can confirm a remarkably strong effect of negative cues on welfare support, for the first time also confirming an effect on policy attitudes. This effect is moderated by the news article treatment, directly and by affecting the influence of values. This indicates that the effect of deservingness is in fact conditional, and that people are able to look past cues. However, unexpected results in the behaviour of the Egalitarianism measure, as well as the manipulation of the news article treatment hamper substantial interpretations of this mechanism.

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