International Politics

, Volume 48, Issue 2–3, pp 164–187 | Cite as

Foreign policy, bipartisanship and the paradox of post-September 11 America

  • Peter Trubowitz
  • Nicole Mellow
Original Article


The attacks of September 11 and the resulting war on terrorism present a puzzle to conventional explanations of foreign policy bipartisanship. Public anxiety about the international environment increased sharply after the attacks in 2001, but this did not translate into greater foreign policy consensus despite the initial predictions of many analysts. In this article, we advance a theory of foreign policy bipartisanship that emphasizes its domestic underpinnings to explain the absence of consensus in Washington. We argue that bipartisanship over foreign policy depends as much on domestic economic and electoral conditions as on the international security environment. Using multivariate analysis of roll call voting in the House of Representatives from 1889 to 2008, we show that bipartisanship over foreign policy is most likely not only when the country faces a foreign threat but also when the national economy is strong and when party coalitions are regionally diverse. This was the case during the Cold War. Despite concern about terrorism in recent years, economic volatility and regional polarization have made bipartisan cooperation over foreign policy elusive.


foreign policy bipartisanship party politics regionalism foreign threats 


  1. Abramowitz, A.I. and Saunders, K. (2005) Why can’t we all just get along? The reality of a polarized America. The Forum 3 (2), Article 1.Google Scholar
  2. Acheson, D. (1971) Oral history interview with Dean Acheson (30 January),, accessed 15 May 2004.
  3. Aldrich, J.H. (1995) Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aldrich, J.H., Gelpi, C., Feaver, P., Reifler, J. and Sharp, K.T. (2006) Foreign policy and the electoral connection. Annual Review of Political Science 9: 477–502.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bartels, L.M. (1991) Constituency opinion and congressional policy making: The Reagan defense buildup. American Political Science Review 85 (2): 457–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bartels, L.M. (2000) Partisanship and voting behavior, 1952–1996. American Journal of Political Science 44 (1): 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bensel, R.F. (1984) Sectionalism and American Political Development: 1880–1980. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  8. Black, E. and Black, M. (1987) Politics and Society in the South. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Block, F. (1980) Economic instability and military strength: The Paradoxes of the 1950 rearmament decision. Politics and Society 10 (1): 35–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brady, D., Cooper, J. and Hurley, P. (1979) The decline of party in the U.S. house of representatives: 1886–1968. Legislative Studies Quarterly 4 (3): 381–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Brewer, M.D. and Stonecash, J.M. (2006) Split: Class and Cultural Divides in American Politics. Washington DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  12. Brody, R. (1991) Assessing Presidential Character: The Media, Elite Opinion, and Public Support. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Burner, D. (1967) The Politics of Provincialism: The Democratic Party in Transition, 1918–1932. New York: W.W. Norton.Google Scholar
  14. Burnham, W.D. (1981) The system of 1896: An analysis. In: P. Kleppner (ed.) The Evolution of American Electoral Systems. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  15. Busby, J.W. and Monten, J. (2008) Without heirs? Assessing the decline of establishment internationalism in U.S. foreign policy. Perspectives on Politics 6 (3): 451–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chollet, D., Lindberg, T. and Shorr, D. (eds.) 2007 Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  17. Christensen, T.J. (1996) Useful Adversaries: Grand Strategy, Domestic Mobilization, and Sino-American Conflict, 1947–1958. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Clausen, A. (1973) How Congressmen Decide: A Policy Focus. New York: St. Martin's Press.Google Scholar
  19. Coleman, J. (1997) The decline and resurgence of congressional party conflict. Journal of Politics 59 (1): 165–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cooper, J. and Young, G. (1997) Partisanship, bipartisanship, and cross-partisanship in congress since the new deal. In: L. Dodd and B. Oppenheimer (eds.) Congress Reconsidered, 6th edn. Washington DC: Congressional Quarterly Press.Google Scholar
  21. Coser, L.A. (1956) The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  22. Divine, R.A. (1974) Foreign Policy and U.S. Presidential Elections: 1952–1960. New York: New Viewpoints.Google Scholar
  23. Fearon, J. (1994) Domestic political audiences and the escalation of international conflict. American Political Science Review 88 (3): 577–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ferguson, T. (1984) From normalcy to new deal: Industrial structure, party competition, and American public policy in the great depression. International Organization 38 (1): 41–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fishkin, J. (1991) Democracy and Deliberation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Fordham, B.O. (1998) Building the Cold War Consensus. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Fordham, B.O. (2008) Economic interests and public support for American global activism. International Organization 62 (1): 163–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Frieden, J. (1988) Sectoral conflict and U.S. foreign economic policy, 1914–1940. International Organization 42 (1): 59–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gaddis, J.L. (2004) Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Gamm, G.H. (1986) The Making of New Deal Democrats: Voting Behavior and Realignment in Boston, 1920–1940. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. Gazell, J.A. (1973) Arthur H. Vandenberg, internationalism, and the United Nations. Political Science Quarterly 88 (3): 375–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gillon, S.M. (1988) Politics and Vision: The ADA and American Liberalism 1947–1985. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gould, L.L. (2003) Grand Old Party: A History of the Republicans. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  34. Gourevitch, P.A. (1986) Politics in Hard Times: Comparative Responses to International Economic Crises. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Grassmuck, G. (1951) Sectional Biases in Congress on Foreign Policy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  36. Griffith, D. and Amrhein, C. (1991) Statistical Analysis for Geographers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  37. Gutmann, A. and Thompson, D. (1996) Democracy and Disagreement. Cambridge: Belknap Press.Google Scholar
  38. Halberstam, D. (2001) War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals. New York: Simon and Shuster.Google Scholar
  39. Holsti, O.R. (2008) American public opinion on the war in Iraq. Meetings of the American Political Science Association. Boston, MA, 27–31 August.Google Scholar
  40. Howell, W.G. and Pevehouse, J.C. (2007) While Dangers Gather: Congressional Checks on Presidential War Powers. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Huntington, S.P. (1997) The erosion of American national interests. Foreign Affairs 76 (5): 28–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jacobs, L.R. and Page, B.I. (2005) Who influences U.S. foreign policy. American Political Science Review 99 (1): 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jacobson, G. (2000) Party polarization in national politics: The electoral connection. In: J.R. Bond and R. Fleisher (eds.) Polarized Politics: Congress and the President in a Partisan Era. Washington DC: CQ Press, pp. 9–30.Google Scholar
  44. Jacobson, G. (2001) The Politics of Congressional Elections. New York: Addison-Wesley, pp. 171–174.Google Scholar
  45. Kernell, S. (1993) Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. Washington DC: CQ Press, pp. 9–30.Google Scholar
  46. Klein, J. (2002) The Natural. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  47. Kupchan, C.A. and Trubowitz, P.L. (2010) The illusion of liberal internationalism's revival. International Security 35 (1): 95–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kurian, G.T. (2001) Datapedia of the United States, 1790–2005: America Year by Year, 2nd edn. Lanham, MD: Bernan.Google Scholar
  49. Lieven, A. and Hulsman, J. (2006) Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  50. Lindsay, J.M. (2000) The new apathy: How an uninterested public is reshaping foreign policy. Foreign Affairs 79 (5): 2–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. MacKuen, M. (1983) Political drama, economic conditions, and the dynamics of presidential popularity. American Journal of Political Science 27 (May): 165–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. McCarty, N., Poole, K.T. and Rosenthal, H. (2006) Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  53. McCormick, J.M. and Wittkopf, E.R. (1990) Bipartisanship, partisanship, and ideology in congressional-executive foreign policy relations, 1947–1988. Journal of Politics 52 (4): 1077–1100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Meernik, J. (1993) Presidential support in congress: Conflict and consensus on foreign and defense policy. Journal of Politics 55 (3): 569–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Meernik, J. and Waterman, P. (1996) The myth of the diversionary use of force by American Presidents. Political Research Quarterly 49 (3): 573–590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Miller, S.E. (2002) The end of unilateralism or unilateralism redux? The Washington Quarterly 25 (1): 15–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Milner, H.V. (1988) Resisting Protectionism: Global Industries and the Politics of International Trade. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Miroff, B. (2007) The Liberals’ Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
  59. Mueller, J. (1973) War, Presidents, and Public Opinion. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  60. Nardulli, P. (2005) Popular Efficacy in the Democratic Era: A Reexamination of Electoral Accountability in the United States, 1828–2000. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Narizny, K. (2003) Both guns and butter, or neither: Class interests in the political economy of rearmament. American Political Science Review 97 (2): 221–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Narizny, K. (2007) The Political Economy of Grand Strategy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Nincic, M. (1997) Domestic costs, the U.S. public, and the isolationist calculus. International Studies Quarterly 41 (4): 593–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Page, B. and Shapiro, R. (1992) The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans’ Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Patterson, S. and Caldeira, G.A. (1988) Party voting in the United States Congress. British Journal of Political Science 18 (1): 111–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Patterson, T.G. (1988) Meeting the Communist Threat: Truman to Reagan. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Pew Research Center (2008) An Even More Partisan Agenda for 2008, Scholar
  68. Poole, K. and Rosenthal, H. (1997) Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Prins, B.C. and Marshall, B.W. (2001) Congressional support of the president: A comparison of foreign, defense, and domestic policy decision making during and after the Cold War. Presidential Studies Quarterly 31 (4): 660–678.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Quirk, P.J. and Nesmith, B. (1995) Divided government and policy-making: Negotiating the laws. In: M. Nelson (ed.) The Presidency and the Political System, 4th edn. Washington DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  71. Rae, N.C. (1994) Southern Democrats. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 531–554.Google Scholar
  72. Rohde, D. (1991) Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rohde, D. (1994) Partisanship, leadership and congressional assertiveness in foreign and defense policy. In: D.A. Deese (ed.) The New Politics of American Foreign Policy. New York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 76–101.Google Scholar
  74. Roman, N. (2005) Both Sides of the Aisle: A Call for Bipartisan Foreign Policy. Council on Foreign Relations. Special Report no. 9.Google Scholar
  75. Sanders, E. (1999) Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877–1917. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  76. Schiller, W.J. (1999) Trade politics in the American Congress: A study of the interaction of political geography and interest group behavior. Political Geography 18 (7): 769–789.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Schlesinger, J. (1997) Fragmentation and hubris: A shaky basis for American leadership. The National Interest 49 (3): 3–10.Google Scholar
  78. Schweller, R.L. (2006) Unanswered Threats: Political Constraints on the Balance of Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  79. Shapiro, R.Y. and Block-Elkon, Y. (2007) Political polarization and the rational public. In: M.H. Halperin, J. Laurenti, P. Rundlet and S.P. Boyer (eds.) Power and Superpower: Global Leadership and Exceptionalism in the 21st Century. New York: Century Foundation Press, pp. 49–68.Google Scholar
  80. Shelley III, M.C. (1983) The Permanent Majority: The Conservative Coalition in the United States Congress. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.Google Scholar
  81. Shoch, J. (2001) Trading Blows: Party Competition and U.S. Trade Policy in a Globalizing Era. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  82. Silverstone, S.A. (2004) Divided Union: The Politics of War in the Early American Republic. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  83. Singer, J.D. (1987) Reconstructing the correlates of war dataset on material capabilities of states, 1816–1985. International Interactions 14 (2): 115–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Souva, M. and Rohde, D. (2007) Elite opinion differences and partisanship in congressional foreign policy, 1975–1996. Political Research Quarterly 60 (1): 113–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Stanley, H. and Niemi, R. (2001) Vital Statistics on American Politics, 2001–2002. Washington DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
  86. Stein, A.A. (1976) Conflict and cohesion: A review of the literature. Journal of Conflict Resolution 20 (1): 143–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Trubowitz, P. (1998) Defining the National Interest: Conflict and Change in American Foreign Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  88. Trubowitz, P. and Mellow, N. (2005) Going bipartisan: Politics by other means. Political Science Quarterly 120 (3): 433–453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Vasquez, J.A. (1985) Domestic contention on critical foreign-policy issues: The case of the United States. International Organization 39 (4): 643–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Westerfield, B. (1963) The Instruments of American Foreign Policy. New York: Crowell.Google Scholar
  91. Wildavsky, A. (1975) The two presidencies. In: A. Wildavsky (ed.) Perspectives on the Presidency. Boston, MA: Little Brown, pp. 448–461.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Trubowitz
    • 1
  • Nicole Mellow
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GovernmentCollege of Liberal Arts, The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceWilliams CollegeWilliamstownUSA

Personalised recommendations