Chapter 4 Public opinion and social policy reforms in East Asia
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Welfare development in East Asia has long been constrained by a state-led, economic growth-first approach, i.e. developmentalism. Yet, due to the intensification of electoral competition in the region, several social policy reforms have been implemented as of recently, rendering developmentalist and interest group-based interpretations somewhat obsolete. This chapter explores the role of public opinion in shaping social policy in contemporary welfare states in East Asia, focusing on Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. To this purpose, we provide policy reform examples from specialised literature, and tentatively devise an analytic framework (‘shaping and managing welfare politics’), to examine the role of public opinion in shaping social policy development, and possible reform strategies meant to manage welfare politics in East Asia. Further empirical studies are needed to tease out the causal mechanism of the opinion-policy linkage and to identify under what conditions people would accept welfare retrenchment in new democracies with less mature political institutions.

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