Will voters punish the government for cutting back welfare state entitlements? The comparative literature on the welfare state suggests that the answer is yes. Unless governments are effectively employing strategies of blame avoidance, retrenchment leads to vote loss. Because a large majority of voters supports the welfare state, the usual assumption is that retrenchment backfires equally on all political parties. This study contributes to an emerging body of research that demonstrates that this assumption is incorrect. On the basis of a regression analysis of the electoral fate of the governing parties of 14 OECD countries between 1970 and 2002, we show that most parties with a positive welfare image lose after they implemented cutbacks, whereas most parties with a negative welfare image do not. In addition, we show that positive welfare image parties in opposition gain votes, at the expense of those positive welfare image parties in government that implemented welfare state retrenchment. © 2013 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.