Under what conditions are people willing to accept paternalistic government policies? The use of libertarian paternalism (“nudges”) has gained popularity and captured the attention of scholars and policy-makers alike. A central underlying assumption in advancing governmental nudges is that the public prefers them over classic paternalistic policies, which, unlike nudges, are coercive. This paper studies the extent and circumstances under which this assumption is justified, arguing that the claim for the preeminence of nudges is overstated. I develop a theoretical framework to account for the conditions under which people prefer coercive and non-coercive paternalism, and test it experimentally among a national U.S. sample. I find that in certain theoretically predictable contexts, individuals not only tolerate, but even prefer coercive paternalism over nudges. These attitudes are systematically explained through the interaction between the coercion level and policy domain in question.
- public opinion