External Threats and Domestic Public Opinion

38 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2014

See all articles by Jessica L.P. Weeks

Jessica L.P. Weeks

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2014


An enormous literature has suggested that domestic politics shape states’ foreign policy decisions, including their decisions to use military force. However, the relationship could also run in reverse: the same international circumstances that make a state more likely to use military force, such as high levels of external threat, could shape the kind of domestic political institutions that emerge in a state in the first place. In this paper, I approach the question from the micro level: do citizens respond to external threats by changing their political attitudes about the importance of “freedom” vs. other values like “order”? I argue that these effects are more likely to occur in non-democracies, where leaders have greater latitude to inflate threats and citizens are less invested in “freedom” as a value. In democracies, in contrast, political competition and citizens’ investment in existing freedoms hampers leaders’ ability to inflate threats and shape political attitudes. To assess these arguments, I use cross-national survey data and various measures of threat, including a plausibly exogenous indicator–the number of the state’s land borders. I find evidence consistent with the hypothesis that external threats affect in citizens’ attitudes, even when using an exogenous indicator like land borders. Moreover, these effects are strong in nondemocracies but weak in democracies.

Suggested Citation

Weeks, Jessica L.P., External Threats and Domestic Public Opinion (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2452530

Jessica L.P. Weeks (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science ( email )

1050 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

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