The Deservingness Heuristic and the Politics of Health Care

CARSTEN JENSEN AND MICHAEL BANG PETERSEN
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF POLITICAL SCIENCE (2016). ADVANCED ONLINE PUBLICATION. DOI DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12251

Abstract: Citizens’ social policy opinions are strongly influenced by a simple heuristic: Are the recipients of social benefits deserving or not? Adding to this growing literature, we provide evidence that the deservingness heuristic does not treat all social benefits alike. Already at the level of preconscious processing, the heuristic displays a bias toward tagging the recipients of health care—that is, sick individuals—as deserving. This powerful, implicit effect overrides other opinion factors and produces broad-based support among the public for health care—across levels of self-interest, media frames, ideological divides, and national cultures. In contrast, when the deservingness heuristic is utilized for reasoning about unemployment benefits, implicit psychological constraints are fewer and political conflict erupts depending on differences in interest and worldviews. Using a variety of methodologies, we track this fundamental difference between the politics of health care and unemployment benefits from the level of implicit processing to the level of political attitudes.