Jake Haselswerdt Researches Public Attitudes Toward Social Safety Net Programs

Author
Leanne Tippett Mosby
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In a recent article published in Political Behavior, Jake Haselswerdt explores how policy design affects the perception of who benefits from the policy with respect to race and immigration status.

“It is very well established that Americans have preconceived ideas about the kind of persons that benefit from different programs, e.g., people tend to associate welfare and food stamps with people of color” Haselswerdt said. “What I was interested in here is why do people make these assumptions.”

Haselswerdt conducted a survey experiment to try and tease out what makes people associate a particular program with a certain demographic. In this case, he looked at both African Americans and immigrants.

“I found if I describe a policy requiring work, Americans are going to be less likely to believe people of color or immigrants will benefit relative to whites,” Haselswerdt said.

He found this to be the case even among respondents who profess not to believe in racial stereotypes about work ethic. This research contributes to the policy process by drilling down on what assumptions people make about policies, which has implications for how policy is developed.

“Our history of racial tension in the U.S. has resulted in less than optimal policy designs. I am hopeful my research can shine a light on the role that prejudice plays in shaping these policies, particularly when it comes to imposing work requirements on people in need,” Haselswerdt said. “I want us to move towards a better and more inclusive social safety net, and I believe to do that we have to confront and move beyond these sorts of stereotypes.”

Haselswerdt will soon be publishing similar research in Perspectives on Politics. In this research, the focus is more on immigrants.

Haselswerdt is an assistant professor in the Truman School and the Department of Political Science. His research focuses on the politics of public policy, especially health and social policy, in the United States.  He is also interested in how people’s experiences with health, economic instability, and public policy shape their political participation.