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Keywords:

  • Risk orientation;
  • Risk aversion;
  • Risk acceptance;
  • Personality;
  • Public policy opinions;
  • Free trade;
  • Foreign policy opinions;
  • Trade opinions;
  • Immigration opinions

This research offers a general framework for thinking about how individual disposition towards risk influences public policy opinions. Affinity for or aversion to risk is, in part, a stable personality characteristic that interacts with risk and reward messages in complex policy debates. We examine the implications of this for public opinions about free trade with extensions to immigration policy. We argue and find that opinions about policy depend jointly upon one's exposure to potential gains or losses and one's risk orientation. The findings have implications for crafting and framing public policies because they highlight how individual characteristics are likely to shape the public response to policy proposals. Our findings suggest that there may be limits, in the aggregate, to the degree to which elites can alter the level of support for policies through framing or through offering risk-mitigating policy provisions.