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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Mitigating welfare-related prejudice and partisanship among U.S. conservatives with moral reframing of a universal basic income policy

Thomas, C. C., Walton, G. M., et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 105, March 2023, 104424


Inequality and deep poverty have risen sharply in the US since the 1990s. Simultaneously, cash-based welfare policies have frayed, support for public assistance has fallen on the political right, and prejudice against recipients of welfare has remained high. Yet, in recent years Universal Basic Income (UBI) has gained traction, a policy proposing to give all citizens cash sufficient to meet basic needs with no strings attached. We hypothesized that UBI can mitigate the partisanship and prejudice that define the existing welfare paradigm in the US but that this potential depends critically on the narratives attached to it. Indeed, across three online experiments with US adults (total N = 1888), we found that communicating the novel policy features of UBI alone were not sufficient to achieve bipartisan support for UBI or overcome negative stereotyping of its recipients. However, when UBI was described as advancing the more conservative value of financial freedom, conservatives perceived the policy to be more aligned with their values and were less opposed to the policy (meta-analytic effect on policy support: d = 0.36 [95% CI: 0.27 to 0.46]). Extending the literatures on moral reframing and cultural match, we further find that this values-aligned policy narrative mitigated prejudice among conservatives, reducing negative welfare-related stereotyping of policy recipients (meta-analytic effect d = −0.27 [95% CI: −0.38 to −0.16]), while increasing affiliation with them. Together, these findings point to moral reframing as a promising means by which institutional narratives can be used to bridge partisan divides and reduce prejudice.


• Policies like Universal Basic Income (UBI) propose to mitigate poverty and inequality by giving all citizens cash

• A UBI policy narrative based in freedom most increased policy support and reduced prejudice among conservatives

• This narrative also achieved the highest perceived moral fit, or alignment with one’s values, among conservatives

• Moral reframing of policy communications may be an effective institutional lever for mitigating partisanship and prejudice


General discussion

Three experiments revealed that a values-based narrative of UBI, one grounded in the conservative value of economic freedom, can advance bipartisanship in support for UBI and simultaneously mitigate welfare-related prejudice among U.S. conservatives. While policy reforms often focus on changes to objective policy features, these studies suggest that the narratives attached to such features will meaningfully influence public attitudes towards both the policy and its recipients. In other words, the potential of policies like UBI to advance goals such as inequality reduction and prejudice mitigation may be limited if they fail to attend to the narratives that accompany them.

Here, we demonstrate the potential for policy narratives that elevate the moral foundations of those most opposed to the policy, U.S. conservatives in this case. Why might this narrative approach succeed? At a higher-order level, our findings suggests that inclusion begets inclusion: when conservatives felt that the policy recognized and reflected their own values, they were more likely to support the policy and express inclusive attitudes toward its recipients.