Think Ahead: Cost Discounting and External Validity in Foreign Policy Survey Experiments
Huddleston, R. Joseph. Forthcoming. “Think Ahead: Cost Discounting and External Validity in Foreign Policy Survey Experiments.” Journal of Experimental Political Science. Cambridge University Press, 1–12. doi:10.1017/XPS.2018.22.
Posted: 10 Mar 2016 Last revised: 18 Dec 2018
Date Written: May 1, 2017
This paper considers the implications of construal level theory in the context of survey experiments probing foreign policy opinion formation. Psychology research demonstrates that people discount the long-term consequences of decisions, thinking about distal or hypothetical events more abstractly than immediate scenarios. I argue that this tendency introduces a bias into survey experiments on foreign policy opinion. Respondents reasoning about an impending military engagement are likelier to consider its costs than are those reasoning in the abstract hypothetical environment. I provide evidence of this bias by replicating a common audience costs experimental design and introducing a prompt to consider casualties. I find that priming respondents to articulate their expectations about casualties in a foreign intervention reduces support and dampens the experimental effect, thereby cutting the estimated absolute audience cost substantially. This result suggests a gap between how survey respondents approach hypothetical and real situations of military intervention.
Keywords: audience cost, survey experiments, survey hypotheticals, external validity, democratic peace, international relations
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