COVID-19 May Have Increased Support for Social Welfare in the US

Wehde and Crabtree

Wesley Wehde & David Crabtree

Members of the media and the US president. Joe Biden himself, have suggested that Americans’ experience with COVID-19 and federal response policy may have increased support for social welfare. Much to their credit, our recent scholarly research into this question which has just been published in our article for Policy & Politics found evidence that this may be the case.

While the strongest evidence would involve data collected from the same people over time, this design is expensive and hard to come by for unexpected events like the pandemic. The alternative we use is to ask respondents to rate their support for social welfare, today in a world that has experienced the pandemic. This is paired with a question asking respondents to rate their support for social welfare in a hypothetical world where the pandemic and the social policy response did not occur. The difference between these two measures provides an estimated effect of the pandemic and policy on attitudes towards social welfare.

Our data come from a nationally representative survey of over 1600 respondents collected in April and May 2021. Our results suggest this positive effect of the pandemic and pandemic policy on support for social welfare is strongest for middle income respondents. This makes sense as the near-universal nature of the stimulus checks, up to approximately $75-100K, may have been the first interaction with what one might call the welfare state for these individuals. Lower income respondents likely already had experience with social welfare policy such as the pandemic response. On the other hand, the highest income members of the public likely benefited much less, at least directly, from federal pandemic response policies.

Importantly, this effect is not contingent upon political ideology. This might be an optimistic finding for those concerned about polarization regarding social welfare in the United States. It also might reflect the bipartisan nature of the federal pandemic response. While federal policy regarding COVID-19 became more contentious over time, initial policy response was made with support from politicians across the ideological spectrum.

To learn more about attitudes towards the US federal pandemic response, see our work in Social Policy & Administration or visit the websites of the authors, Wesley Wehde and David Crabtree. Finally, if you want to talk more about this research, reach out on Twitter @wwwehde.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Crabtree, D., & Wehde, W. (2023). Examining policy feedback effects from COVID-19 on social welfare support: developing an outcome distance dimension, Policy & Politics,

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Sewerin, S., Cashore, B., & Howlett, M. (2022). New pathways to paradigm change in public policy: combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback, Policy & Politics50(3),

Berglund, O., Dunlop, C. A., Koebele, E. A., & Weible, C. M. (2022). Transformational change through Public Policy, Policy & Politics, 50(3),

6, P. (2022). Robust, resilient, agile and improvisatory styles in policymaking: the social organisation of anomaly, risk and policy decay, Policy & Politics50(2),

Heikkila, T., & Jones, M. D. (2022). How diverse and inclusive are policy process theories?, Policy & Politics50(1),

Moon, M. J., & Cho, B. S. (2022). The implications of COVID-19 for concepts and practices of citizenship, Policy & Politics50(1),

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