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Deservingness and political preference in opinions on distant suffering

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This article argues that opinions on distant suffering must be understood via three variables: recipients of aid and sympathy; cause of suffering; and providers of aid and sympathy. These insights are present in the literature but have not to date been combined. One advantage of such a combination is that it allows us to explore the extent to which providers of aid and sympathy employ deservingness criteria in their opinion formation. Theoretically, the article thus opens a dialogue between the distant issue literature and theories of deservingness in welfare state research. Methodologically, it builds on an original survey of 2003 Danish respondents. The article’s main ambition is to probe (1) the relationships between political preference and opinions on distant suffering; (2) the extent to which Danes engage in deservingness calculations when they relate to it; and (3) whether deservingness calculations are patterned along political preference. The data show that political preference predicts opinions and that deservingness calculations are indeed prevalent. Yet they also demonstrate that these differences should be interpreted against the background of a high aggregate level of support for distant issue engagement. The effect of political preference is most pronounced at the outer poles of the political spectrum, and less so at the centre. And while deservingness logics are most prevalent on the right, the pattern is moderate and non-consistent.

TidsskriftCurrent Sociology
Sider (fra-til)456-473
Antal sider18
StatusUdgivet - maj 2019

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