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Powlick-The Sources of Public Opinion for American Foreign Policy Officials

Powlick-The Sources of Public Opinion for American Foreign Policy Officials

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The Sources of Public Opinion for American Foreign Policy OfficialsAuthor(s): Philip J. PowlickSource:
International Studies Quarterly,
Vol. 39, No. 4 (Dec., 1995), pp. 427-451Published by:
on behalf of
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Accessed: 13/06/2011 14:12
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International tudiesQuarterly1995)39, 427-451
The Sourcesof Public OpinionforAmericanForeignPolicyOfficials
DePauwUniversityPublicopinionisincreasinglyeingconsideredanimportantactornforeignolicydecisions.This article husxamineswhatources of nfor-mationforeign olicyofficials ctually setorepresent ublic opinion.Alinkagemodel s hypothesizedith ommunicationsetweengovernmentand thepublic followingfivepaths: elites,interestgroups,the newsmedia,elected officials,nd the mass,orgeneral,public.The data showthatthe eliteand interestrouppathsare leastused, pathsbasedon thenewsmedia and electedofficialsre mostused,withmassopinionsourcesof moderatemportance.urther ata show thatthe useofanyonepathdependsto some extentuponthetypesf ssueswithwhichofficialseal,and thenstitutionalositionndideologyof ndividual fficials.oreignpolicyofficialsre oftenkepticalbout public opinionpolls; however,nusingtheir own alternativeoperational" ources,suchofficialsmaybemorereceptive o public inputthan previously hought.The results fthis study are compared withBernard Cohen'sThe Public's mpactonForeignolicy 1973). This comparisoninds significantlyiminished seof elitesourcestorepresentpublic opinion,most likely a result ofofficials' ense of the "lessons"f Vietnam.TheliteratureonAmericanforeignpolicyhasrecentlyseenagrowingnumberofarticles and booksdiscussingtheimportanceofpublicopinion. (Foran overviewseeHolsti,1992.)Whereaspublicopiniononforeignrelations wasonce seen aslargely ignorant,characterized moreby "moods" thanby well-reasonedopinions(e.g., Almond,1960), many scholarshave now cometo view public opinionas bothrational(Graham,1989; Russett,1990; Pageand Shapiro, 1992)and stable(Caspary, 1970;Page and Shapiro,1992; PeffleyndHurwitz, 1992), or,in BruceJentleson's (1992)words, "pretty rudent."Accompanyingthishasbeennew schol-arship regardingtheimpact that publicopinionhason American foreignpolicy.The conventional wisdomwas thatpublic opiniondid not much matter tothosewhomadepolicy (Yarmolinsky,1963; Cohen, 1973);several recent authors have
challengedthisassessment, uggestinghatforeign olicyofficials re attentive opublic opinionandthatpublic opinionmatters ntheirdecisions(e.g.,Graham,1989; Powlick,991; Hinckley, 992).Acceptingthe newline ofargumentthatpublic opinionisimportantsee
Author's ote: heauthorwishes o thank hemanydozens of StateDepartment nd NationalSecurityouncilstaffmemberswho havedonated their ime and confidential ommentary orthisnd related researchprojectsver thepast eightyears.?1995nternationaltudiesAssociation.Published yBlackwelluLblishers,38 MainStreet,ambridge, A 02142,USA, nd 108 Cowley oad, Oxford X41JF,K
Powlick, 991), this article eeks to identifynd assess the relative mportance fdifferentources of public opinion to foreign olicyofficials.f public opinion is important, hat do officialsook to in order to gauge its tone and direction?Public Opinion and Paths of LinkageIn any democratic ociety,egitimacy equires popular consent, uggesting hat asignificant egree of harmony etweenpublic opinion and government olicy-orat the very east, public acquiescence in policy-is desirable. t has been shownempirically hat on most American foreignpolicy issues such harmonyusuallyexists e.g., Monroe, 1979; Page and Shapiro, 1983). Yet our understanding f theprocessbywhich uch agreement s achieved-that is, how government nd publicopinion are linked"-remains murky. s a move toward etter nderstanding,hisstudy xaminesthesourcesofinformation hatforeign olicyofficialsdentify srepresentativefAmericanpublic opinion; that s, how do officials operationalize" public opinion?Inmost studies of how government nteractswithpublic opinion, the phrase"public opinion" is used as a term without pecific definition.V.0.Key,forexample,definedpublic opinion as "thoseopinions held byprivate ersonswhich governmentsindtprudentto heed"(Key,1964:14). Conceptually,uch a defini-tion s fine,but operationally,t eaves much to be desired.Which private itizens?Onwhich ssues?Forwhichgovernments r segments f government? nswers othesequestionsareclearlynecessaryfwe are to betterunderstandhow foreignpolicys linkedto public opinion.Insurveyinghe iterature nlinkage n foreignpolicyeveralpossible pathsofopinion transmissionan be identified nd placedwithinhypotheticalmodel of foreign olicy inkage.
Manycholarshavehypothesized majorrole forlitesnthe nfluencefforeignpolicy.GabrielAlmond1960),fornstance,awpublicnfluenceomingprimarilyfromnongovernmental lites,withsubsidiary ole forwhathe called"the atten-tivepublic."Bernard Cohen(1973)sawamajor opinion linkagerole for twodistinctroupswhichhecalled "intimates"friendsndassociatesofofficials)nd"experts."lites are oftenthoughtorepresentn articulatendknowledgeablegroup who often act as both influencersf andreceptorsfor massopiniononforeign policy. Throughtheirongoinginteractionswithpolicy makers,andthroughhechannels of elite dialogue (e.g., editorials, oreignpolicy ournals), theymay serve to mediateorrepresentpublic opinionwithin heforeignpolicyprocess.
The classic interestgroup (or pluralist)model ofpoliticsseespublic opiniontransmittedogovernment hroughhe self-interestedctions ofdiverse ndcom-petitive roupsorfactions. he activitiesf suchgroupsn theforeign olicyealmhavebeen studied na limitednumberof areas. Businessgroups werestudiedbyBauer, Dexter, and Pool (1972), ethnic groups by Bard (1988),andsingle-issuegroupsby Moffett1985)andbyKusnitz1974).No clear consensushasemergedfrom this literature n the overalldegreeof interestgroup influence; groupinfluence s often een to beeithergroup-orcase-specific.n the contextof thisarticle,however,t should bekeptn mind thatgaugingthe overallnfluenceof

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