Why Austerity? The Mass Politics of a Contested Policy

Kirk Bansak, Michael M. Bechtel, Yotam Margalit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The effects of austerity in response to financial crises are widely contested and assumed to cause significant electoral backlash. Nonetheless, governments routinely adopt austerity when confronting economic downturns and swelling deficits. We explore this puzzle by distinguishing public acceptance of austerity as a general approach and support for specific austerity packages. Using original survey data from five European countries, we show that austerity is in fact the preferred response among most voters. We develop potential explanations for this surprising preference and demonstrate the empirical limitations of accounts centered on economic interests or an intuitive framing advantage. Instead, we show that the preference for austerity is highly sensitive to its political backers and precise composition of spending cuts and tax hikes. Using a novel approach to estimate support for historical austerity programs, we contend that governments' strategic crafting of policy packages is a key factor underlying the support for austerity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-505
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2021


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