Welfare states are exposed to a host of cost-inducing ‘reform pressures’. An experiment implemented in Germany, Norway and Sweden tests how various reform pressure frames affect perceptions about the future financial sustainability of the welfare state. Such perceptions have been shown to moderate electoral punishment for welfare reform, but little is known about their origins. Hypotheses are formulated in dialogue with newer research on welfare state change, as well as with older theory expecting more stability in policy and attitudes (the ‘new politics’ framework). Research drawing on ‘deservingness theory’ is also consulted. The results suggest large variations in impact across treatments. The most influential path to effective pressure framing is to ‘zoom in’ on specific economic pressures linked to undeserving groups (above all immigration, but also to some extent low employment). Conversely, a message emphasizing pressure linked to a very deserving group (population aging) had little effect. A second conceivable path to pressure framing entails ‘zooming out’ – making messages span a diverse and more broadly threatening set of challenges. This possibility, however, received weaker support.