The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus

By Richard Sobel | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Extending the Theory of Public Opinion
in American Foreign Policy: Public Opinion
as Intervention Constraint

The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy Since Vietnam examines the role that public attitudes have played over the last generation in the making of U.S. foreign policy. The study explains the place of opinion in the policy process, particularly decisions about U.S. interventions, both on a theoretical level and from the perspective of actual decision-makers. In pursuing its goals, the book focuses on four of the most prominent foreign interventions of the last generation: the Vietnam War, the Nicaraguan contra funding controversy, the Gulf War, and the war in Bosnia. By demonstrating how public opinion affected policy, the cases provide the basis for the building of an overall theory of public opinion in foreign policymaking.

This concluding chapter summarizes and reflects on the insights the book provides into the relationship between public opinion and foreign policymaking. In particular, it draws conclusions from comparisons across the cases about how public opinion actually entered into the foreign policy decision-making process in military interventions. Further, it explores the impact of national public opinion on administration policymakers, and for the Nicaragua case, the influence of national and constituent opinion on congressional decision-makers. In short, it evaluates the actual roles of public opinion in the foreign policy of our democracy.

Through the combination of analytic approaches, the investigation of these four controversies advances the knowledge of and the theories about public opinion in foreign interventions. Reviews of the major empirical theories of the influence of public opinion set the basis for Key's system of dikes theory, which generally holds that public opinion sets limits or constraints on the discretion that policymakers have in choosing from among possible policy options. The decline of public support established, for instance, how long the United States could continue intervention in Vietnam. Protest as a type of public opinion set limits on how extreme, for example, could be the options from which the Johnson and Nixon administration policymakers could choose.

In developing general insights about opinion's impact on foreign policy, the study explores foreign policy attitudes as shaped by the climate of opinion, overall presidential approval, and public preferences for specific policies. The examination of the


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Impact of Public Opinion on U.S. Foreign Policy since Vietnam: Constraining the Colossus
Table of contents


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 276

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?