Date of Completion


Embargo Period



welfare state

Major Advisor

Dr. Lyle Scruggs

Associate Advisor

Dr. Matthew Singer

Associate Advisor

Dr. Cyrus Ernesto Zirakzadeh

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Recent unpopular reforms across Europe have invigorated a longstanding debate around what provokes welfare state change in advanced industrialized democracies. Is welfare state retrenchment a result of right-wing parties in power or is it simply a universal response to “problem pressures”? Might there be an interactive effect between these variables, in which right-wing parties use moments of pressure as opportunities to retrench? This study focuses on a set of the most theoretically intriguing of social welfare cutbacks: those demonstrably unpopular to the majority of the voting public and therefore most dangerous to politicians risky who voted out for unpopular policies. Using cross-national public opinion polls to identify a subset of demonstrably unpopular cutbacks (i.e. retrenchment to mandatory pensions for private-sector workers), this study conglomerates data on cutbacks to pension for 18 countries over 26 years, 1990 to 2015. The logit regression, major fiscal-economic downturn is identified as a major determinant of unpopular social benefits retrenchment, whereas the partisanship variable is either weakly significant or in an unexpected direction, depending on specification. A control, corporatism, is significant and positive. The study then explores the financial-economic downturn and retrenchment link, through case studies on France and Germany, identifying downturn as a critical moment or crisis that pushes politicians to engage in retrenchment. Thus, crisis is not so much an opportunity for right parties, waiting eagerly to retrench, but a restriction of alternative possibilities, that pushes them toward cutbacks to pensions.