The politics of welfare policy
In this project, we want to call attention to the politics of welfare policy by studying the interplay between political elites and voters in relation to current welfare state reforms. By doing so, we aim to help bridge the gap between welfare state research on the one hand, and the study of political elites, parties and public opinion on the other. Previous research has pointed to a number of factors that shape welfare policies, such as long-term economic, social and demographic changes, the strength of various interest groups, and institutional arrangements. The traditional emphasis on societal and institutional factors may, however, divert attention from the fact that actual policy decisions are made by politicians engaged in a competitive struggle for electoral support. While this struggle takes place within limitations set by economic and institutional constraints, political actors may have considerable latitude in framing policy responses. We therefore believe that an improvement of our knowledge of the politics of welfare policy is essential to understand the dynamics behind contemporary welfare reform processes. The project combines case studies of Norwegian welfare politics with comparative studies of welfare reform in a wider European context. The project comprises three sub-projects: 1) Welfare policy decisions in Norwegian political parties, 2) Agenda-setting and public opinion dynamics in the 2005 Norwegian election campaign, 3) Elite debates and citizen values: a European perspective.