Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Has the Tide Embedding Neoliberalism Turned? an Update of Recent New Zealand Opinion Studies

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Has the Tide Embedding Neoliberalism Turned? an Update of Recent New Zealand Opinion Studies

Article excerpt

In her book on public attitudes to social citizenship - and earlier and later articles (2014, 2015b, 2016) - Louise Humpage (2015a) traces three decades of attitudinal data (from New Zealand, Australia and the UK) to see if the watering- down of social citizenship rights through government-led (imposed?) reforms have impacted on public support for these rights. She argues that ....

support for some aspects of social citizenship diminished more significantly under some political regimes than others, and that limited public resistance following the financial crisis of 2008-2009 further suggests the public 'rolled over' and accepted these neoliberal values. ... Yet attitudinal variances across different policy areas challenge the idea of an omnipotent neoliberalism (Back blurb: see also useful summary in Humpage, 2015a: 243ff).

There is a particular shape to many of the trends Humpage reports (nicely summarised in her table 8.1: 224): quite a few trends have markedly risen with the 2011 survey, alongside a general election which may have tended to 'lock-in' a National party ideological framework: with the campaign for the latter perhaps affecting the former. Major changes in the 2008-2011 period include:

- declining support for government ensuring a decent standard of living for the unemployed;

- declining support for import controls;

- increased agreement that Trade unions had too much power;

- falling support that the government should ensure a decent sol for elderly; and

- declining support for free healthcare and support for free education.

However, Humpage's analysis finishes with the 2011 NZES survey round and there is now another round available collected immediately after the 2014 general election - although that too is now starting to look dated. (For analyses of attitudinal items in the 2011 data see Vowles, Cotterell & Von Randow, and Humpage, 2015.) This research note updates some of the time-series used in her project and then examines other data sources since. Unfortunately, the 2014 round of the NZES data collection jettisoned (in favour of other questions - e.g. on personality) many of the attitude time-series that would allow better updating. In particular, the highly useful 'government responsibility' questions were not included.

It is possible that a methodological argument (a 'null hypothesis') may explain the reported right-ward trend to some extent. Over successive waves of the NZES response rate has dropped by half: from nearly 60% circa 2000 to barely 30% in 2014 - see Table 1 which tracks response-rate for the postal and telephone portions of each wave. Undoubtedly, the social characteristics of those responding will exaggerate the features of respondents compared to nonrespondents: older, more educated, higher s.e.s. and long-settled and thus likely more politically conservative on at least some issues. A right-ward trend would be further reinforced by the 'growing older' shifts likely amongst the panel respondents included in the NZES sample design as they age (and are less likely to carry forward youthful idealism). Weighting may fully compensate for this trend, but investigation of this methodological difficulty seems warranted, although it is unlikely to be easy. However, I shall proceed assuming that this is not a major problem!

Humpage poses her research question as the somewhat 'external' impact of promulgated neo-liberal policies on attitudes (i.e. support for such policies) while also holding out, at a deeper level, the possibility of respondents holding deeper neoliberal framings and understandings of the economy and society: whether individuals are reconstructed by neoliberalism. Survey data, considered here, can only address the more 'external' level of analysis which Humpage importantly complements with her focus-group material.

The heart of the 'neo-liberalism effect' question requires deploying both theoretical considerations and high quality data. …

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