This paper investigates public attitudes toward welfare state policies as a result of both situational, i.e. unemployment, and ideological factors, i.e. egalitarian ideology, at both the individual and national level. The dependent variables are public support for the sick and the old as well as for the unemployed as target beneficiaries of welfare state policies. Data from the ISSP study ‘Role of Government’ are analysed using a multi-level regression technique. Findings indicate that the National level is important in shaping public attitudes toward welfare state policies in industrialized nations, and that both situational and ideological factors play a role. Apparently, various nations generate different public beliefs about national social problems and about the relationship between individuals, the state and other institutions. Eventually, these understandings and beliefs influence popular attitudes regarding what kind of policies the state should pursue, and who should benefit.