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Keywords:

  • values;
  • social values;
  • public opinion;
  • welfare;
  • social policy

Studies on public opinion about welfare already acknowledge the role context plays in individual attitudes towards welfare. However, the much-debated effect of socially held values and beliefs on attitudes towards social policy has not been empirically investigated. Drawing on studies in political and social psychology, as well as Shalom Schwartz's work on universal human values, this article argues that social values, specifically egalitarianism and embeddedness, affect individual support for social welfare policies. Moreover, we posit that social values condition the effect that individual ideological orientations have on attitudes towards government responsibility, such that the effect of embeddedness is much stronger for right-wing and moderate identifiers than those who lean towards the left. We test our hypotheses using data from the European Social Surveys (ESS) and International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) Role of Government module and employing multi-level modelling. Our results provide evidence of the importance of social context and shared values in influencing attitudes towards welfare.