International Crises and Linkage Politics: The Experiences of the United States, 1953-1994

By James, Patrick; Rioux, Jean Sebastien | Political Research Quarterly, September 1998 | Go to article overview

International Crises and Linkage Politics: The Experiences of the United States, 1953-1994


James, Patrick, Rioux, Jean Sebastien, Political Research Quarterly


This study assesses the effects of U.S. involvement in international crises on the domestic popularity of American presidents for all major classes of voters. Using a time series analysis of monthly presidential approval and crisis involvement between 1953 and 1994, and controlling for economic conditions and structural features of presidential popularity, it is apparent that crisis activity does increase the president's popularity, albeit by a very small margin. This result holds for both overall approval levels and within each president's "ruling coalition" of partisans as well as independent voters; opposition party voters generally do not "rally `round the flag." The small rally effect for crisis activity diminishes, however, when the U.S. president uses force, and when the Soviets are not involved. Furthermore, the rally effect actually seems to depend on the level of presidential response to a crisis; higher levels of response would account for rally effects. Taking the analysis one step further, it is revealed that outcomes of international crises (that is, how the U.S. fared) generally do not affect presidential popularity, even when examined with various lags. The investigation concludes with suggestions for further research on linkage politics.

Among classical and structural realists, domestic politics and foreign policy are regarded as distinct spheres of policymaking. Foreign policy is deemed "high politics," the domain of the central leadership, while domestic policy also concerns the legislature, interest groups, and the general public (Waltz 1979, 1986; Gilpin 1981). States are visualized as hard and impenetrable, like billiard balls, and what goes on inside does not (and should not) affect how states interact on the international "table." However, studies of domestic politics and foreign policy over the last decade reveal that these spheres are more interwoven than previously assumed.l

Intuition suggests that foreign policy is made by political leaders in light of multiple constraints (Putnam 1988; Evans, Jacobson, and Putnam 1993) and evidence confirms that performance in the international arena can affect the political survivability of leaders (Norpoth 1987; Bueno de Mesquita, Siverson, and Woller 1992; Bueno de Mesquita and Siverson 1995). Notwithstanding a long history of anecdotal observations (Wright [1942] 1965: 6), linkage politics and interdependence have been studied in a programmatic manner only in recent years.

Despite increasing interest in interdependence and interpenetration of political systems, relatively little is known about the impact of international conflicts-especially crises-on domestic politics. A wide range of issues has gained prominence over the course of the last decade: diversion of internal conflict to restore popularity of a government at home (Levy 1989) and the associated "rally effect" (Oneal and Bryan 1995); the more general impact of domestic politics on foreign policy (Russett 1990a); specific connections involving the U.S., most notably related to presidential popularity and use of force (Ostrom and Simon 1985); and the democratic peace (Wolfson, James, and Solberg 1998). The present study is not about any one of these subjects exclusively; instead, it aims toward greater understanding of linkage politics by making discoveries with potential relevance to all of the above-noted areas in varying degrees. With such concerns in mind, the objectives of this study are twofold. First, the effects of involvement in international crises on political conditions inside the United States are assessed. The second purpose is to explore prospects for future study of linkage politics through a more clearly specified research design.

This investigation begins by providing a background discussion of the literature on linkage politics, especially recent theoretical developments. The next step is to develop propositions that connect changes at the domestic level to crisis activity and other international factors. …

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