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Keywords:

  • deservingness;
  • attribution of responsibility;
  • poverty;
  • social welfare policy decisions

In the current climate of welfare reform, it is important to understand how perceptions of the poor affect policy decisions. This paper examines how people distinguish between the undeserving poor and the deserving poor, and how this differentiation affects policy decisions. Survey respondents rated each policy in a set of hypothetical policies on a liberal-conservative continuum. Analyses were then conducted to explore differences in the respondents’ likelihood of recommending the most liberal and the most conservative of these policies. Study 1 demonstrated that liberal policies were more likely to be recommended and conservative policies were less likely to be recommended when the target group was perceived to be deserving rather than undeserving. Study 2 replicated this effect of perceived deservingness and demonstrated an effect of attribution of responsibility. That is, liberal policies were more likely to be recommended and conservative policies were less likely to be recommended when the responsibility for the target’s poverty was attributed to society rather than to the individual.