Framing policy reforms: Multi-dimensional preferences for labour market reforms

Aina Gallego (Institut de Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals & Institute of Political Economy and Governance) & Paul Marx (University of Southern Denmark)

The public debt crisis and economic recession that have beset the EU’s Southern member states over the past few years hit policy makers with a double whammy. Rising unemployment has fuelled calls for more investment into social protection systems, yet stricken public finances are tying the hands of those seeking to reform labour market policies. How can policy makers elicit public support for their plans, when funding for reforms in one policy area means cutting elsewhere? It’s time to have a closer look at voters’ multi-dimensional preferences say Aina Gallego and Paul Marx in their article “Multi-dimensional preferences for labour market reforms: a conjoint experiment” published in the Journal of European Public Policy. Aina and Paul analyse public support for labour market policy reform in Spain, using a conjoint experiment that allows them to simultaneously vary five characteristics of a policy. Their analysis suggests that voters are sensitive to spending trade-offs between different issue areas, allowing policy makers to manipulate support for policy reforms by carefully framing the proposed plans: “Depending on the trade-off, citizens can be mobilized against a programme (cuts in health and education) or in favour of it (cuts in defence, higher debt, higher income tax).”