Sociology, Department of


First Advisor

Philip Schwadel

Date of this Version


Document Type



A dissertation presented to the faculty of the graduate College at the University of Nebraska in partial fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Major: Sociology

Under the supervision of Professor Philip Schwadel

Lincoln, Nebraska, August, 2023


Copyright 2023, Jamy K. Rentschler


This dissertation examines public opinions towards public basic needs programs (PBNPs), focusing specifically on differences in attitudes towards spending on assistance to the poor (ATP) and welfare. To do this, I use two different approaches, one focusing on survey methodology and the other looking at social change across time and religious tradition. The first research question addresses potential survey question order effects based upon which question came first, ATP or welfare, and examines how other federal spending priorities may impact opinions towards welfare. I do find question order effects, some of which vary based on the respondent’s race, but the effect sizes are rather small. However, the results highlight how important it is for questionnaire designers to be cognizant of how highly racialized concepts could influence respondent answers.

The second research chapter explores how attitudes towards ATP and welfare have changed over time. Using a hierarchical age-period-cohort (HAPC) model, I find that people tend to become less supportive of ATP as they age. In addition, attitudes towards ATP varied more across periods compared to cohorts. There was little to no variation in attitudes towards welfare across cohorts. However, support for ATP has been steadily increasing with each successive cohort.

Last, I look at how attitudes towards ATP and welfare have changed among different religious traditions. Specifically, I focus on three of the largest religious traditions in the United States: white evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and the religiously unaffiliated (Nones). For most religious traditions, the predicted probability of supporting ATP does vary by year but to different degrees. Black Protestants and non-white evangelical Protestants had the highest predicted support across the years. White evangelical Protestants and mainline Protestants had the lowest levels of predicted support and exhibited more change across periods. In addition, the findings show that despite increasing heterogeneity and ideological shifts within these traditions, predicted probabilities of supporting ATP are growing across cohorts for all religious traditions.

Advisor: Philip Schwadel