International Courts and Public Opinion
26 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2018 Last revised: 21 Mar 2018
Date Written: February 28, 2018
Can international courts impact public opinion? There are many reasons to think not. The growing prominence of international courts in the domestic public sphere requires though reconsideration of this presumption. This experimental study takes the existing US-centric research on the effects of courts on public opinion a step further by testing whether the level of a court matters, whether domestic, international or even foreign. A panel of respondents in Norway were tested as to their views on prostitution laws and family rights to asylum after the random informational ‘treatments’ based on the decisions and reasoning of different courts. The overall shift in opinion was statistically significant but only when respondents received a double treatment of reasoning and judicial authority. Surprisingly, respondents receiving this information moderated their opinions regardless of the identity of the court. Similar impacts were generated when courts were replaced with non-judicial but authoritative actors such as the United Nations or Amnesty International. Nonetheless, the results, for at least Norway, lend support to a transpositional theory of international courts while casting doubt on ideas of credible commitment. It is the endorsement by a court not the type of a court that it is critical for inflecting public opinion.
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