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Diffusion through Democracy

American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 678-695, July 2011

18 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2011  

Katerina Linos

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law

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.

Suggested Citation

Linos, Katerina, Diffusion through Democracy (July 7, 2011). American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 55, No. 3, pp. 678-695, July 2011. Available at SSRN:

Katerina Linos (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

488 Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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