Political Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 705–730 | Cite as

The Determinants of US Public Opinion Towards Democracy Promotion

  • Dawn Brancati
Original Paper


In this paper, I evaluate two competing perspectives regarding what underlies the public’s support for democracy promotion—a democratic values-based perspective positing that the public’s support for democracy promotion is based on a principled desire to spread American values, beliefs, and ideologies to other countries, and a national interests-based perspective claiming that it is based on a rational desire of Americans to advance the US’ political and economic interests abroad. Using a survey experiment, I find that, in general, Americans are not driven by either democratic values or national interests to support democracy promotion even though they believe that democracy promotion is in the interests of both the recipient country and the United States. Only a subset of the population is motivated to support democracy promotion for the sake of democratic values. This subset of the population is driven by cosmopolitanism—that is, a sense of concern for the welfare of those living in other countries and a sense of moral responsibility to promote democracy abroad derived from the US’ position as a world leader, not national pride.


Democracy promotion Public opinion Survey experiment 



The author would like to thank Steve Smith and the Weidenbaum Center at Washington University in St. Louis for their support in conducting the survey experiment, as well as Ingrid Anderson, Ian MacMullen, and Bob Shapiro for their helpful comments and advice on this project. This project was funded by a Weidenbaum Center grant.


  1. Berinsky, A. J. (2009). In time of war: Understanding American public opinion from world war II to Iraq. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Berinsky, A. J., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). The polls—Review public opinion research and support for the Iraq war. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71(1), 126–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brambor, T., Clark, W. R., & Golder, M. (2006). Understanding interaction models: Improving empirical analyses improving empirical analyses. Political Analysis, 14(1), 63–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bueno de Mesquita, B., & Downs, G. W. (2006). Intervention and democracy. International Organization, 60(3), 627–649.Google Scholar
  5. Carothers, T. (2006). The backlash against democracy promotion. Foreign Affairs, 85(2), 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis, T. R., & Lynn-Jones, S. M. (1987). Citty upon a hall. Foreign Policy, 66(Spring), 20–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. DeBartolo, D. M. (2008). Perceptions of US democracy promotion, part two: American views. Washington DC: Project on Middle East Democracy.Google Scholar
  8. Desch, M. C. (2008). America’s liberal illiberalism: The ideological origins of overreaction in U.S. foreign policy. International Security, 7–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Doyle, M. W. (1986). Liberalism and world politics. The American Political Science Review, 80(4):1151–1169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Drezner, D. W. (2008). The realist tradition in American public opinion. Perspectives on Politics, 6(1), 51–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dunning, T. (2004). Conditioning the effects of aid: Cold war politics, donor credibility, and democracy in Africa. International Organization, 58(Spring), 409–423.Google Scholar
  12. Eckles, D. L., & Schaffner, B. F. (2011). Risk tolerance and support for potential military intervention. Public Opinion Quarterly, 75(3), 533–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Eichenberg, R. C. (2003). Gender differences in public attitudes toward the use of force by the United States, 1990-2003. International Security, 2(1), 110–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Farber, H. S., & Gowa, J. (1995). Politices and peace. International Security, 20(2), 123–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Finkel, S. E., Green, A., Pérez-Liñán, A., Seligson, M., & Tate, C. N. (2008). Cross-national research on USAID’s democracy and governance programs: Codebook (phase ii).
  16. Fite, D., Genest, M., & Wilcox, C. (1990). Gender differences in foreign policy attitudes: A longitudinal analysis. American Politics Research, 18(4), 492–513.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gause III, F. G. (2005) Can democracy stop terrorism? Foreign Affairs, 84(5), 62–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gelpi, C., Feaver, P. D., & Reifler, J. (2005/2006). Success matters: Casualty sensitivity and the war in Iraq. International Security, 30(3), 7–46.Google Scholar
  19. Gibson, J. (1998). A sober second thought: An experiment in persuading Russians to tolerate. American Journal of Political Science, 42(July), 819–850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gore, A. (1992). Earth in balance: Ecology and the human spirit. New York: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  21. Hainmueller, J., & Hiscox, M. J. (2010). Attitudes towards highly skilled and low skilled immigration: Evidence from a survey experiment. American Political Science Review, 104(1), 61–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hegre, H., Ellingsen, T., Gates, S., & Gleditsch, P. (2001). Toward a democratic civil peace: Democracy, political change and civil war, 1816–1992. American Political Science Review, 95(1), 33–48.Google Scholar
  23. Hiscox, M. J. (2006). Through a glass and darkly: Framing effects and individuals’ attitudes towards international trade, international organization. International Organization, 60(3), 755–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Jensen, N. M., & Young., D. J. (2008). A violent future? Political risk insurance markets and violence forecasts. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 52(4), 527–547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Katzenstein, P. J., & Keohane, R. O. (2007). Anti-Americanisms in world politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kaufmann, C. (2004). Threat inflation and the failure of the marketplace of ideas: The selling of the Iraq war. International Security, 29(1), 5–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Knack, S. (2004). Does foreign aid promote democracy?. International Studies Quarterly, 48(1), 251–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Koh, H. H. (2002/2003). On American exceptionalism. Stanford Law Review, 55, 1479–1527.Google Scholar
  29. Kohut, A., & Stokes, B. (2006). America against the world: How we are different and why we are disliked. New York: Owl Books.Google Scholar
  30. Kuklinski, J. H., Quirk, P. J., Jerit, J., Schwieder, D., & Rich, R. F. (2000). Misinformation and the currency of democratic citizenship. The Journal of Politics, 62(3), 790–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lipset, S. (1959). Some social requisites of democracy: Economic development and political legitimacy. American Political Science Review, 53(1), 69–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lipset, S. M. (1996). American exceptionalism: A double-edged sword. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  33. Mansfield, E. D., Milner, H. V., & Rosendorff, B. P. (2000). Free to trade: Democracies, autocracies, and international trade. The American Political Science Review, 94(2), 305–321.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mansfield, E. D., & Snyder, J. L. (1995). Democratization and the danger of war. International Security, 20(1), 5–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McFaul, M. (2004). Democracy promotion as a world value. The Washington Quarterly, 28(1), 147–163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Midlarsky, M. (1998). Democracy and the environment: An empirical assessment. Journal of Peace Research, 35(3), 341–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Milner, H. V., & Kubota, K. (2005). Why the move to free trade? Democracy and trade policy in developing countries. International Organization, 50(1), 107–143.Google Scholar
  38. Mueller, J. (2005). The Iraq syndrome. Foreign Affairs, 84, 44–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mueller, J. E. (1971). Trends in popular support for the wars in Korea and Vietnam. The American Political Science Review, 65(2), 358–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Narang, V., & Nelson, R. M. (2009). Who are these belligerent democratizers? Reassessing the impact of democratization on war. International Organization, 63(2), 357–379.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Peffley, M., Hurwitz, J., & Sniderman, P. M. (1997). Racial stereotypes and whites’ political views of blacks in the context of welfare and crime. American Journal of Political Science, 41(1), 30–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Pei, M. (2003). The paradoxes of American nationalism. Foreign Policy, 136, 31–37.Google Scholar
  43. Pickering, J., & Peceny, M. (2006). Forging democracy at gunpoint. International Studies Quarterly, 50(3), 539–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Przeworski, A., & Limongi, F. (1997). Modernization: Theory and facts. World Politics, 49(2), 155–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ross, M. (2006). Is democracy good for the poor? American Journal of Political Science, 50(4), 860–874.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Russett, B. (1993). Grasping the democratic peace. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Scheve, K., Lu, X., & Slaughter, M. (2012). Inequity aversion and the international distribution of trade protection. American Journal of Political Science, 56(3), 638–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Scott, J. M., & Steele, C. A. (2011). Sponsoring democracy? The United States and democracy aid to the developing world 1988–2001. International Studies Quarterly, 55(1), 47–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Shapiro, R. Y., & Bloch-Elkon, Y. (2005). Partisan conflict, public opinion and US foreign policy. Paper presented at the Inequality and Social Policy Seminar, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA.Google Scholar
  50. Snyder, J. L. (2000). From voting to violence: Democratization and nationalist conflict. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
  51. Sobel, R. (2000). To intervene or not to intervene in Bosnia: That was the question for the United States and Europe. In R. Y. S. Brigette Lebens Nacos, & P. Isernia (Eds.), Decisionmaking in a glass house: Mass media, public opinion, and American and European foreign policy in the 21st century (pp. 111–132). New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  52. Stokes, S., & Boix, C. (2003). Endogenous democratization. World Politics, 55(4), 517–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Thrall, T. A., & Cramer, J. K., (Eds.) (2009). American foreign policy and the politics of fear: Threat inflation since 9/11. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  54. Tomz, M. (2007). Domestic audience costs in international relations: An experimental approach. International Organization, 61(4), 821–840.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tures, J. (2007). The democracy-promotion gap in American public opinion. Journal of American Studies, 41(3), 557–579.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5(1), 207–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory of international politics. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  58. Weber, S., & Jentleson, B. W. (2010). The end of arrogance: America in the global competition of ideas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Wollack, K. (2008). Democracy promotion: Serving U.S. values and interests. Northwestern University Law Review, 102(1), 433–436.Google Scholar
  60. Yankelovich, D. (2005). Poll positions: What Americans really think about US foreign policy. Foreign Affairs, 84(5), 2–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Washington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations