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Title Economic inequality and blame attribution to the political system
Post date 06/04/2019
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale Economic inequality is on the rise and has gained momentum in the political debate. However, despite heavy political rhetoric little political action has been taken to counter the trend and the general public displays little appetite for more redistribution. This is insofar puzzling as the political economy models would predict otherwise. An important step to expect political implications of inequality perceptions is that people attribute the (unsatisfactory) state of economic inequality to the political realm, i.e. rate it as product of political decision making. This aspect has been widely discussed with regard to economic and performance voting where the attribution of responsibility is treated as important precondition for electoral punishment effects (e.g. Tilley and Hobolt 2011, Malhotra and Kuo 2008, Giger 2011). While there is a large psychological literature on attribution (e.g., Gilbert and Malone 1995, Schlenker et al. 1994), few studies consider political outcomes and the attribution of responsibility to political actors. While this literature generally confirms that the attribution of responsibility is far from automatic and that individual differences exist, the question whether citizens attribute governments the full responsibility for the state of economic inequality or whether they rather see it as the consequences of a globalized economy is still unchartered territory.
C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

H1: The less responsibility for economic inequality voters assign to the government, the less they are willing to support redistribution
H2: The less responsibility for economic inequality voters assign to the government, the less they are willing to vote for parties supporting redistribution
H3:
H3: Political sophistication moderates the extent to which people assign responsibility for economic inequality to the political realm.
H4: The context in form of the clarity of responsibility conditions the extent to which people assign responsibility for economic inequality to the political realm.

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? *

In the project, we analyze how much responsibility for economic inequality citizens attribute to the government with a twofold research design. In a first step, we want to gain observational evidence on the question by asking specifically about the attribution of responsibility in a cross-national survey. The online survey, conducted in collaboration with Jonas Pontusson, will be conducted in 13 European countries and the US will include the following question:
People often hold different actors responsible for economic inequality. Please indicate your views using any number on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means “no responsibility” and 10 means “full responsibility”
A. How responsible is the national government for the current state of economic inequality in your country?
B. How responsible is the European Union for the current state of economic inequality in your country? (not for US)
C. How responsible are private and multinational companies for the current state of economic inequality in your country?
In a second step, we aim to gain experimental evidence on the effect of government responsibility attribution on political behavior. The idea is to use a subsample of the online survey for a survey experiment. Taking inspirations in the work of Tilley and Hobolt (2014), our treatment consists of different statements about who is responsible for economic inequality, followed by a standard question about respondents’ demand for redistribution in their respective country.
Treatment 1: Experts say that changes in income differences in country X are largely driven by actions taken by the X’ government.
Treatment 2: Experts say that changes in income differences in country X are largely driven
by global economic changes
Control no introduction to question
F2.1 Position on redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.
0. Fully opposed to the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor
...
10. Fully in favour of the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor

C4 Country United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, United States
C5 Scale (# of Units) for experiment: N around 3000 per country, 500 for each treatment condition, the rest in the control group, N=2000 for the general survey
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? No
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? No
C8 IRB Number not provided by authors
C9 Date of IRB Approval not provided by authors
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Survey conducted by IPSOS
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? No
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? Yes
C13 JEL Classification(s) not provided by authors