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A Disconnect Between Foreign Policymakers and the Public? (WP-06-10)

Benjamin I. Page and Lawrence R. Jacobs

In this working paper, the authors examine whether foreign policy decision makers heed the views of the general public. On the one hand there are those observers who have said no, asserting that the public lacks the ability to make sensible decisions on matters of national life and death; decision makers should pursue the national interest according to their own best judgment, even if that contradicts the public’s wishes. Others, including the present authors, are much more optimistic about the public’s capacity to form reasonable opinions.

The authors, however, will show with systematic data what various examples in earlier work already suggested—that over the last 30 years there have been many substantial disagreements or “gaps” between foreign policy decision makers and the U.S. public. Indeed, there has been something like a “disconnect” between the two. Moreover, there has been no discernible tendency for the gaps to narrow or disappear over time. They see this as presenting serious problems for democratic values and as constituting a challenge for formulating an effective foreign policy.

This working paper will be part of a forthcoming book The Foreign Policy Disconnect: What Americans Want from Our Leaders but Don’t Get (University of Chicago Press) by Benjamin I. Page with Marshall M. Bouton.

Benjamin I. Page, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

Lawrence R. Jacobs, Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota

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