Diffusion through Democracy
American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 678-695, July 2011
18 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2011
Date Written: July 7, 2011
Many argue that international norms influence government behavior, and that policies diffuse from country to country, because of idea exchanges within elite networks. However, politicians are not free to follow their foreign counterparts, because domestic constituencies constrain them. This article examines how electoral concerns shape diffusion patterns and argues that foreign templates and international organization recommendations can shift voters’ policy positions and produce electoral incentives for politicians to mimic certain foreign models. Experimental individual-level data from the field of family policy illustrates that even U.S. voters shift positions substantially when informed about UN recommendations and foreign countries’ choices. However, voters receive limited information about international developments, biased towards the policy choices of large and proximate countries. Aggregate data on the family policy choices of OECD countries show how voters’ limited information about international models shapes government decisions: governments are disproportionately likely to mimic countries whose news citizens follow, and international organizations are most influential in countries with internationally oriented citizens.
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