What Determines Opinions on Economic Bailouts in a Donor Country?

With yesterday’s 1st round French Presidential election result in the news, the question of what will be the electoral price paid by governments that financed the current round of financial bailouts during the Euro crisis is bound to surface again. Recent research by political scientists Michael M. Bechtel, Jens Hainmueller, and Yotam M. Margalit sheds some interesting light on this question. Here’s the abstract from their paper:

Why do voters agree to bear the costs of bailing out other countries? Despite the prominence of public opinion in the ongoing debate, voters’ preferences on the eurozone bailouts are poorly understood. Our analysis uses observational and experimental data from Germany, the country shouldering the largest share of the EU’s financial rescue fund. We find that while the economic features of the bailout package itself strongly affect voters’ willingness to support the transfers, individuals’ own economic standing has limited explanatory power in accounting for their position on the bailouts. In contrast, social dispositions such as altruism and cosmopolitanism are robustly associated with support for the bailouts. The results indicate that the current divide in public opinion over the bailouts is less along distributive lines between domestic winners and losers, but better understood as a foreign policy issue that pits economic nationalist sentiments versus greater cosmopolitan affinity and other-regarding concerns.

There is an interesting parallel here to past research I’ve conducted (with co-authors Adam Berinsky, Alexander Pacek, and Alex Herzog) on attitudes towards EU membership in post-communist countries. We also found that it wasn’t one’s position in the economy—and whether that suggested that you personally stood to benefit or not from EU membership—that determined one’s attitude towards EU membership, but rather you were doing well or poorly in general financially. In our story, we envisioned approving of EU membership to be part of a general approval of the post-communist transition, as well as a guarantee that this market-based transition would not be reversed. The findings by Bechtel et al. seem to suggest a similar dynamic with regard to the bailouts: supporting the bailouts is seen as part and parcel of supporting the general “pro-Europe” agenda, and not necessarily a separate issue.

Bechtel et al. also note that:

Rather than a left-right divide, attitudes differ most signi cantly between supporters of centrist parties and extremist parties, whereby the latter are signi cantly less supportive of the bailouts. (p.2-3)

Interestingly, this too is in line with previous research that I conducted with Radoslaw Markowski on voting behavior in the Polish referendum on EU membership, where we found a similar pattern of results.

The full paper paper by Bechtel et al. is available here. My articles are available here and here (on attitudes towards the EU) and here (on voting in the Polish EU referendum).

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