Burden Sharing and Collective Action: A Study of Opinion on Opioid Treatment Funding

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Principal investigators:

Michael Hankinson

Baruch College, City University of New York

Email: michael.hankinson@baruch.cuny.edu

Homepage: http://mhankinson.com/

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner

Harvard University

Email: jdbk@hks.harvard.edu

Homepage: https://scholar.harvard.edu/jdbk/home

Sample size: 2008

Field period: 06/19/2018-09/24/2018

When does self-interest influence public opinion on contentious public policies? The bulk of theory in political science suggests that self-interest is only a minor force in public opinion. Using nationally-representative survey data, we show how financial and spatial self-interest and partisanship all shape public opinion on opioid treatment policy. We find that a majority of respondents support a redistributive funding model for treatment programs, while treatment funded by taxation based on a community's overdose rate is less popular. Moreover, financial self-interest cross-pressures lower-income Republicans, closing the partisan gap in support by more than half. We also experimentally test how the spatial burden of siting treatment clinics alters policy preferences. People across the political spectrum are less supportive when construction of a clinic is proposed closer to their home. These results highlight how partisanship and self-interest interact in shaping preferences on public policy with concentrated burdens.

H1: What is the effect of financial self-interest on support for funding opioid treatment policy?

H2: What is the effect of spatial self-interest on support for opioid treatment infrastructure?

Experimental Manipulations

1: We randomly varied how the funding burden for a $100m opioid treatment bill would be allocated, either based on a respondent's income or a respondent's area's overdose rate.

2: We randomly varied the spatial proximity of a new opioid treatment facility, either near (1/4 mile away) or far (2 miles away).

1: Support for the $100m funding bill.

2: Support for the proposed opioid treatment clinic.

Summary of Results
Overall, we find that treatment policy funded redistributively is more popular than policy funded based on a community's local overdose burden (56% v. 44%), as current financial burdens are de facto allocated. Under both funding models, people support policies less if they will pay more to fund the policy, demonstrating the influence of financial self-interest. Leveraging the geographic breadth of our survey sample, we also test how self-interest and partisan predispositions cross-pressure voters. While Republicans are less supportive of treatment policies than Democrats overall, financial self-interest cross-pressures lower-income Republicans, leading them to form opinions more in line with partisans across the aisle than they would otherwise. Additionally, we show that the physical proximity of treatment infrastructure activates spatial self-interest: people across the political spectrum oppose clinic construction more when it is proposed closer to their home (14 percentage points). Together, these results demonstrate the power of self-interest and its ability to cross-pressure voters on an especially severe policy challenge with concentrated burdens.


de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin, and Michael Hankinson. 2019. "Concentrated Burdens: How Self-Interest and Partisanship Shape Opinion on Opioid Treatment Policy." American Political Science Review 113(4): 1078-1084.