Day: January 15, 2013

Another Virtue of Blogsphere Engagement?

PM’s latest post, “Nobody cares about foreign policy” (note to self: we need a style manual to resolve whether, for example, post titles should be capitalized), was prompted by a proseminar we both attended on Monday.

At this proseminar, the always-interesting and invariably thoughtful Elizabeth Saunders presented part of her book project: a paper entitled “The Electoral Disconnection in US Foreign Policy.”

Among other things, Saunders argues that theories of “democratic international relations” — particularly those surrounding audience costs — need to incorporate a central insight from the last fifty years of American politics research: that most voters are “low information”* when it comes to many things political–and especially international affairs.** It follows, therefore, that elites who provide “cues” to the voting public in general, partisans, ethnic groups, etc. often operate as key intermediaries in the relationship between foreign policy and electoral pressures.

You should definitely read the paper, but that isn’t the point of this post.

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Nobody cares about foreign policy

It bears repeating that nobody votes on foreign policy, and most folks don’t know anything about it anyway (remember that a nontrivial number of Americans think South Korea is our greatest enemy). I’ll quote myself:

[N]obody gives a damn about foreign policy. Theories of democratic responsiveness and empirical models of foreign policy choice need to begin with this fact. Nobody cares! That thing we do? The international relations bit? It’s somewhat less important than professional bowling or HGTV. [Americans] only care about security–and their understanding of that is about as sophisticated as the Toby Keith song about the Statue of Liberty. …

[O]ur brilliant little theories about how voters express their desires over foreign policy rest on the idea that voters have some utility over foreign-policy choices. That, in turn, may also be flatly wrong. When voters vote, their choices are likely wholly driven by domestic factors. If that’s the case, there’s no residual term–foreign-policy voting is in the error term. This means that foreign policy should be relatively unconstrained, both ideologically (except among a very few elites) and in its implementation (because nobody cares).

I make the same point more diplomatically and, at much greater length, in my dissertation. I should note that the professional bowling jest was an exaggeration, but foreign affairs is demonstrably less important to voting behavior than college football (e.g., e.g.. I also point out that sometimes it’s okay to exaggerate for rhetorical effect.

Below the fold, I adduce new evidence that even the Council on Foreign Relations is somewhat ambivalent about foreign policy.
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Tuesday Morning Linkage Club

It would have been better than Carter. Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ducks at sea!


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