A New Perspective on the Foreign Policy Views of American Opinion Leaders in the Cold War and Post-Cold War Eras

By Rosati, Jerel A.; Link, Michael W. et al. | Political Research Quarterly, June 1998 | Go to article overview
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A New Perspective on the Foreign Policy Views of American Opinion Leaders in the Cold War and Post-Cold War Eras


Rosati, Jerel A., Link, Michael W., Creed, John, Political Research Quarterly


This article breaks new ground in the study of the foreign policy views of American opinion leaders by using a systematic content analysis of writings published in leading foreign policy journals. It is in such journals that the debate on the nature and direction of American foreign policy is often played out. Such an approach allows us to examine the level of diversity in the foreign policy thought of opinion leaders and to provide an initial assessment of the level of continuity and change in this thought since the end of the Cold War. The findings do not suggest the formation of a new consensus over the direction of American foreign policy anytime soon. Rather, between the Cold War eighties and the post-Cold War nineties foreign policy attitudes have been marked by both persistence and change, resulting in a greater diversity and complexity of thought, as well as greater optimism for the future of U.S. foreign policy The study highlights the importance of developing alternative research strategies and data sources which both supplement and complement more traditional survey research approaches in order to more fully capture and understand the foreign policy thought of American opinion leaders.

In the wake of the Cold War there has been a renewed interest among scholars and analysts in examining the foreign policy beliefs of Americans. Just as the Vietnam War led to a splintering of a foreign policy consensus among the public in the seventies (see Destler, Gelb, and Lake 1984; Mann 1990; Rosati 1993), the impact of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War are expected to have dramatic effects on the foreign policy debate in the United States for the foreseeable future. One key to understanding this debate lies in the writings and viewpoints of American opinion leaders. It was the split in beliefs among opinion leaders over the Vietnam War that was ultimately critical in generating the collapse of the Cold War consensus throughout American society (Mann 1990; Hallin 1986; Schneider 1984; Mueller 1973). Likewise, the viewpoints of such opinion leaders will probably serve as a guiding force in the search for a new foreign policy consensus as the United States enters the 21st century.

To date, however, studies of the foreign policy beliefs of Americans, including the elite public and opinion leaders, have been driven almost exclusively by survey research approaches. Kegley (1986: 467) recommends that "future research might consider severing its almost exclusive reliance on survey research methodologies and instead estimate the distribution of opinion by tapping other indicators." One alternative source for gauging the foreign policy debate is the writings regularly published in major foreign policy journals. It is in foreign policy journals, such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The National Interest where the debate on the nature and direction of American foreign policy by opinion leaders is often played out (see Kegley 1986).

Articles in such journals are excellent sources for tapping into the foreign policy views of American opinion leaders. First, foreign policy journals are major outlets that American opinion leaders-practitioners, policy analysts, journalists, scholars, intellectuals, and the like-rely on to communicate their point of view (see Rosenau 1961). Second, foreign policy journals span the political spectrum to reflect much of the foreign policy discourse that exists throughout the country (see Rosati 1993: 536). Third, foreign policy journals are common sources of foreign policy information and views beyond the popular media to which many politically attentive and active members of the elite public interested in foreign policy are likely to turn (see Weiss 1974; Zaller 1992). In sum, analyzing the content of foreign policy journals should prove a valuable complement to survey research, allowing us to build on previous works on foreign policy beliefs.

Presented here, therefore, is a somewhat different perspective on the foreign policy beliefs and attitudes of American elites.

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