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Why has the COVID-19 pandemic increased support for Universal Basic Income?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2021, The Author(s).The onset of the 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic led to a marked increase in positive discussion of Universal Basic Income (UBI) in political and media circles. However, we do not know whether there was a corresponding increase in support for the policy in the public at large, or why. Here, we present three studies carried out during 2020 in UK and US samples. In study 1 (n = 802, April 2020), people expressed much stronger support for a UBI policy for the times of the pandemic and its aftermath than for normal times. This was largely explained by the increased importance they attached, in the pandemic context, to a system that is simple and efficient to administer, and that reduces stress and anxiety in society. In study 2 (n = 400, May 2020), we pitted UBI against a conditional targeted social transfer system. Preferences for UBI were stronger for pandemic times than for normal times. This was partially explained by a number of perceived advantages, such as simplicity of administration and suitability for a changing world. In study 3 (n = 397, September 2020), we found that the headline results of studies 1 and 2 persisted six months after the onset of the pandemic, albeit with attenuated effect sizes. Our results illustrate how a changing social and economic situation can bring about markedly different policy preferences, through changes in citizens’ perceptions of what is currently important.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Johnson E, Johnson M, Saxe R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Humanities and Social Sciences Communications

Year: 2021

Volume: 8

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 17/03/2021

Acceptance date: 25/02/2021

Date deposited: 29/03/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2662-9992

Publisher: Springer Nature


DOI: 10.1057/s41599-021-00760-7


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