Survey: How does the pandemic influence attitudes towards globalisation and the welfare state?

Franziska Deeg (project B03), Eloisa Harris (PhD Fellow at BIGSSS) and Simone Tonelli (project A06) have jointly developed a research concept to find out how the Covid-19 pandemic affects the attitudes of the German and Brazilian population towards globalisation and the welfare state. The surveys, planned for spring 2021, will be funded by the CRC 1342 and the Dr. Hans Riegel-Stiftung. In an interview conducted by email, Deeg, Harris and Tonelli explain the background and hypotheses of their study.

When the pandemic began to spread, globalization became shock-frozen - governments restricted international travelling and or closed boarders entirely. Many countries began to realize how dependent they are on global production and trade chains – and their governments announced to reverse this dependence for critical goods and sectors of the economy. On the other hand, the testing, financing, and distribution of vaccines to fight the pandemic seems impossible without the advantages globalization is providing. One year into the pandemic – what is your take on the future of globalisation?

Deeg, Harris und Tonelli: This question, or more like paradox, is among those that inspired our project. Over the past decades, we witnessed a resurgence of neoliberal tendencies, growing international free trade, and the crystallization of a global supply chain that made countries significantly more dependent to one another. At the same time, the process of economic globalization created a group of so-called “losers”, that is, a group of people whose jobs and incomes are threatened by international markets. Now, the pandemic is bringing home the existence of novel health-related risks of globalization, and further economic and social divides that have resulted as a consequence of wealth disparity and diverging strategies of government intervention across the globe.

Clearly, we do not have (yet) an answer to your question. As you mentioned, on the one hand the run for a vaccine is making clear the importance of international cooperation, positively affecting the support for a more political globalization. On the other hand, the economic repercussion may push people into more protectionist tendencies and further reduce the support for economic globalization. However, we think that the individual preferences for more or less economic and political globalization will depend on the extent, and the kind, of exposure people had to the economic, health-related and social consequences of the pandemic.

The welfare state plays a critical role in mitigating the non-health-related effects of the pandemic. In the survey, that you are preparing, you want to investigate citizens’ attitudes towards the welfare state, and how this may have changed due to the pandemic. Shouldn’t the answer to this be straightforward?

Deeg, Harris und Tonelli: If there is something research on social policy preferences taught us is that support for redistribution is never straightforward. In the project, we build on existing literature about why and how preferences are formed, to explain potential differences between groups and between countries. Demand for social policies are not just a function of income, as traditional welfare state scholarship may suggest, but interact with a number of other factors: Labour market volatility, education, optimism, political trust and other environmental factors. We draw from two main arguments to generate expectations about which groups support different social policies, and why. In a similar way, we argue that the pandemic is exposing to its economic consequences some groups more than others, and thus, the preferences of the individuals will be also a function of the exposure to these risks. We put forward two mechanisms that we think can explain how the exposure to risk affects policy preferences. On the one hand, we expect that exposure to economic insecurity caused by the pandemic will lead individuals affected by economic insecurity to demand insurance from their risk. On the other hand, given the extend of media coverage about the consequences of the pandemic, individuals who were not directly affected by the pandemic may feel solidaristic with certain groups and support more redistribution. Thus, we expect that both those economically affected, through self-interest, and those not affected, through solidarity, to support welfare state spending.

Furthermore, as the risks associated with the current situation are transversal to the traditional welfare state coalitions, it will be interesting to see if new coalitions will emerge as a consequence of the pandemic. This will be especially interesting in the context of Brazil, where the welfare state is highly fragmented and covers certain some groups (formal workers) better than others (informal workers). In this context, welfare preferences have so far not been clearly visible, because of low trust in the government, low tax morale etc., but a disruptive event such as the pandemic might change that.

In your survey will look at Brazil and Germany. Why did you choose these two countries?

Deeg, Harris und Tonelli: The two countries are interesting to compare because they are both highly integrated in the global market, they were both highly affected by the crisis, not only in terms of health but also in terms of the economy. Both governments took severe containment measures. At the same time, these containment measures were not equally effective, the two economies vary in the degree of work-from-home and they have different welfare systems. We think these are interesting variations to test our assumptions in different contexts.

How will your survey be rolled out? Do you have access to a representative sample of the population? Or will the survey be online for everyone to participate?

Deeg, Harris und Tonelli: We will conduct online surveys in Germany and Brazil in March 2021 (roughly one year after the start of the global pandemic). We will use an international survey company which works similarly to a market place, where people can select in which surveys they want to participate. We will be able to connect with over 1000 respondents per country (final number of observations to be determined) and the survey will be representative for the online population and stratified by age (between 18 and 65), gender, region and either income or education (we are still looking into it).

Due to budget limitations, we are unable to field household surveys. Of course, sampling can always be improved but we are positive that our samples will be sufficiently representative of our population of interest: 86% of Germans and about 67% of Brazilians have access to the internet. However, non-users are overrepresented among the elderlies and they would be excluded anyway from our survey.

The three of you are researchers in different projects of the CRC and at the BIGGGS. Why did you decide to cooperate on this?

Deeg, Harris und Tonelli: Through the CRC, we had the chance to get to know each other be it at Jour Fixe, Summer Schools or at social events. Even though our CRC-projects focus on different aspects of the welfare state, we found that we have other common research interests, such as the study of individual policy preferences and attitudes, survey methods and quantitative analysis. Each of us brings complementary knowledge to the project, and all of us bring what we have learned in the past years in the CRC to develop something ourselves.


Eloisa Harris, Franziska Deeg, Simone Tonelli
Eloisa Harris, Franziska Deeg, Simone Tonelli

Franziska Deeg
Simone Tonelli