Immediate rewards or delayed gratification? A conjoint survey experiment of the public’s policy preferences

Previous scholarship has focused primarily on how citizens’ form policy preferences and how those preferences are taken into account in democratic decision-making. However, the temporal aspect of policy preferences has received little attention, although many significant societal problems have consequences that extend far into the future. To fill the gap, we examine to what extent citizens are willing to support policies, when rewards can only be expected after several electoral cycles. Using a conjoint survey experiment, we demonstrate that while a slight tendency towards more immediate policy rewards is discernible, citizens are not as impatient as has been widely assumed. In contrast with previous research, political trust does not affect the impact of the time horizon of policy choice. Instead, we find that people with higher education are more likely to choose policies the benefits of which materialize in the distant future. These findings add to the growing evidence which suggests that citizens’ short-sightedness is not a very strong driver of democratic myopia.

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