Public opinion, Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy in Liberal Democracies

Risse-Kappen, T. World Politics

The paper discusses the role of public opinion in the foreign policy–making process of liberal democracies. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, public opinion matters. However, the impact of public opinion is determined not so much by the specific issues involved or by the particular pattern of public attitudes as by the domestic structure and the coalition-building processes among the elites in the respective country. The paper analyzes the public impact on the foreign policy–making process in four liberal democracies with distinct domestic structures: the United States, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Japan. Under the same international conditions and despite similar patterns of public attitudes, variances in foreign policy outcomes nevertheless occur; these have to be explained by differences in political institutions, policy networks, and societal structures. Thus, the four countries responded differently to Soviet policies during the 1980s despite more or less comparable trends in mass public opinion.