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From Policy to Polity: Democracy, Paternalism, and the Incorporation of Disadvantaged Citizens

This article investigates how experiences with public policies affect levels of civic and political engagement among the poor. Previous studies suggest that direct encounters with welfare institutions can produce ‘feedback effects’ on political attitudes and behaviors that vary by policy design. To advance this literature, we take up three outstanding questions related to problems of selection bias, the distinction between universal and targeted programs, and the types of authority relations most likely to foster engagement among the poor. Taking advantage of a dataset with unique benefits for the study of feedback effects among low-income populations, we estimate effects associated with three types of means-tested public assistance. We find that the feedback effects of these policies are not an illusion created by selection bias; the feedback effects of targeted programs can be positive as well as negative; and such effects tend to be more positive when a policy’s authority structure reflects democratic rather than paternalist principles.


Economic Support, Means-Tested Programs, Social Insurance Programs