National Images Framed, Foreign Public Opinion Shifted: Evidence from Health Diplomacy During a Crisis
55 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2021 Last revised: 13 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 13, 2021
While many countries increasingly try to manipulate their national images abroad, we know relatively little about their ability to shape foreign public opinion and thereby attract support for their desired policy outcomes. Using a survey experiment about a Russian donation to the U.S. early in the COVID-19 pandemic, we cast light on an under-investigated, theoretically important aspect of transnational opinion formation — the media's capacity to facilitate or impede a country's efforts to change their images. We find that an adapted news article excerpt describing Russia's donation as genuine decreases American citizens' support for sanctions on Russia. However, information suggesting that Russia attempts to make the U.S. look incapable and pressure the U.S. to lift its sanctions on Russia cancels out the positive effect of Russia's charity. Our paper has several broad theoretical implications for the literature on public opinion and international relations. First, contrary to the widely held belief that images are resistant to change, our empirical result suggests that countries can change their national images if a positive aspect of a government's decision is primed. Second, this success also fits with the theoretical claim that dramatic events (e.g., in our study, the novel coronavirus pandemic) provide windows for countries who wish to change their national images. Third, our study is the first to show empirical support for the psychological theory of "insincerity aversion" in the context of international relations. Fourth, it contributes to the growing international relations literature on "health diplomacy" during a crisis.
Keywords: Public Diplomacy, Media Framing, National Images, Foreign Public Opinion, Russia, United States, COVID-19, Health Diplomacy
JEL Classification: D74, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation