Who Is “On Welfare”? Validating the Use of Conjoint Experiments to Measure Stereotype Content

C. Daniel Myers, Kirill Zhirkov, Kristin K Lunz Trujillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


We use the case of welfare recipients to validate conjoint experiments as a measure of stereotype content. Stereotypes are politically consequential, but their content can be difficult to measure. The conjoint measure of stereotype content, in which respondents see profiles describing hypothetical persons and rate these persons’ degree of belonging to the target group, offers several advantages over existing measures. However, no existing work evaluates the validity of this new measure. We evaluate this measurement technique using the case of welfare recipients. Stereotypes of welfare recipients are politically important and extensively studied, providing strong a priori expectations for portions of the stereotype, especially race, gender, and “deservingness.” At the same time, scholars disagree about the importance of another attribute with important political implications: immigration status. We find that aggregate stereotypes, measured via a conjoint experiment, match the strong a priori expectations: white Americans see welfare recipients as black, female, and violating the norms of work ethic. Individual-level stereotypes also predict welfare policy support—even when other demographic and ideological factors are accounted for. We also find that immigration status is not a part of the welfare recipient stereotype for most Americans, but support for welfare is lower among those who do stereotype welfare recipients as undocumented immigrants. Finally, we suggest an improvement in the conjoint task instructions. Overall, we confirm that conjoint experiments provide a valid measure of stereotypes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-110
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Earlier versions of this project were presented at the Annual Conference of the Southern Political Science Association as well as workshops at the University of Minnesota and Vanderbilt University. We are grateful to Chris Federico, Paul Goren, Cindy Kam, Steve Utych, three anonymous reviewers, and Geoffrey Layman, the editor of Political Behavior, for their helpful comments. This research was funded by a Seed Grant for Social Science Research from the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • conjoint experiments
  • public opinion
  • stereotypes
  • survey methods
  • welfare


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