The Relationships Between Mass Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy: Toward a Theoretical Synthesis


Democracy requires that citizens’ opinions play some role in shaping policy outcomes, including in foreign policy. Yet, while the literature on public opinion and foreign policy has made great progress over the past several decades, scholars have reached no consensus concerning what the public thinks, or thinks about, with respect to foreign policy, how it comes to hold those opinions, or whether those opinion do or should influence foreign policy. In this chapter, we first review the extensive gains in scholarly knowledge in the area of public opinion and foreign policy over the past several decades (with a particular emphasis on relatively recent work). We then suggest a framework, based on the concept of market equilibrium, aimed at synthesizing the various disparate research programs that together constitute the literature on public opinion and foreign policy. To do so, we incorporate a third strategic actor, the mass media, which we believe play a critical role alongside citizens and elites in shaping public attitudes about, and influence upon, foreign policy. Our goal is to clarify the multifaceted relationships between these actors and foreign policy outcomes.


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