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Paying Attention to Foreign Affairs

How Public Opinion Affects Presidential Decision Making

Thomas Knecht

Publication Year: 2010

Published by: Penn State University Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. iii


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pp. iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

In a democracy, it is generally assumed that citizen preferences inform public policy. But do American presidents really consider public opinion when making foreign policy decisions? For a variety of reasons, foreign policy has always posed a difficult challenge for democratic governance. Citizen oversight of public officials requires an active and informed electorate, yet the American public ...

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A Note on the Surveys

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pp. xiii

The majority of the surveys cited in this book were retrieved online from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut, via the LexisNexis database, at http://web.lexis-nexis.com/universe/form/ academic/s/s_roper.html. LexisNexis no longer carries the center’s data, but all of the surveys herein can now be accessed directly from the Roper Center’s ...

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pp. 1-11

Does public opinion influence U.S. foreign policy? The prevailing wisdom in the foreign policy literature is that public opinion can, at times, influence presidential decision making. Two examples in particular serve to illustrate the potential effect of the public on presidents’ policy choices. In March 1999, NATO warplanes bombed Serbian targets in an effort to end the violence ...

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Chapter One: Foreign Policy in the Shadows and the Spotlight

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pp. 13-36

At what point, if at all, does the American public matter in the construction of U.S. foreign policy? To help us think about this question, consider three foreign policy problems that occurred during President Jimmy Carter’s term in office. First, Carter faced the question of whether or not to turn over control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. Under the leadership of General ...

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Chapter Two: The Five Stages of Decision Making

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pp. 37-54

In 1991, Philip Powlick published an article entitled “The Attitudinal Bases for Responsiveness to Public Opinion Among American Foreign Policy Officials,” in which he asked sixty-eight U.S. foreign policy officials what they truly thought of the American public. The analysis revealed a number of interesting findings about public opinion from the vantage point of the people ...

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Chapter Three: Patterns of Public Attention

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pp. 55-80

Remember the name Michael Fay? In 1994, the American teenager was living in Singapore when police caught him vandalizing cars. Fay was later convicted and sentenced to receive six lashes with a four-foot bamboo rod called a rotan. The incident sparked media frenzy in the United States, and over 70 percent of Americans reported following the news about Fay.1 The unusual ...

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Chapter Four: The Persian Gulf Crisis

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pp. 81-111

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded the small, oil-rich country of Kuwait and quickly began to amass troops along the Saudi Arabian border. The United States immediately condemned the invasion and froze all Iraqi and Kuwaiti assets. On August 6, the UN authorized economic sanctions and an embargo against Iraq. Two days later, a U.S.-led coalition of states launched Operation ...

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Chapter Five: Operation Desert Storm

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pp. 113-140

The previous chapter offered a view of presidential leadership in the early stages of a crisis. At the start of the Persian Gulf conflict, President Bush and his advisors represented Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as a serious threat to U.S. interests and made policy choices consistent with this view. There is little indication that public opinion affected these choices or caused the administration ...

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Chapter Six: The Ethiopian Famine: Problem Definition and Option Generation

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pp. 141-176

From 1982 to 1986, a devastating famine ravaged the Horn of Africa. The situation was most dire in Ethiopia, a country that had experienced regular famines throughout its history. Hunger and politics are perhaps more closely intertwined in Ethiopia than in any other nation. In the mid-1970s, famine was directly responsible for the collapse of the Ethiopian monarchy when ...

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Chapter Seven: The Ethiopian Famine: Decision, Implementation, and Review

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pp. 177-202

As we saw in the previous chapter, a guarded political context allowed the Reagan administration to ignore public opinion when dealing with Ethiopia. As a result, U.S. policy became gridlocked, vacillating, and often dilatory. However, in late 1984, television and rock stars united to make the Ethiopian famine one of the most salient events of the 1980s. The Reagan administration responded ...

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pp. 203-219

An environmentalist friend recently spoke with me at length about how the looming threat of global climate change is closer than we think. His discussion of global warming included some pretty dire predictions of aquifers drying up, massive desertification, and eventual global famine—all in an alarmingly brief time frame. Of course, I am familiar with global warming and know ...

Appendix A: Quantitative Methods

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pp. 221-225

Appendix B: Case Study Methods

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pp. 227-233


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pp. 235-253


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pp. 255-263

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053578
E-ISBN-10: 0271053577
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271037547
Print-ISBN-10: 0271037547

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 21 charts/graphs, 9 tables
Publication Year: 2010