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Finding the water’s edge: when negative partisanship influences foreign policy attitudes

Abstract

In moments of international crisis, US presidents have historically rallied public support by evoking the national identity. Affective polarization undermines the salience of national identities and threatens to carry domestic divisions across the water’s edge. Does affective polarization reduce individuals’ support for military action? When is polarization most likely to extend beyond the water’s edge? I argue that the foreign policy consequences of affective polarization vary across intervention contexts and individuals. Using a series of ten survey experiments conducted during the 2016 presidential election season, I investigate the presence and stability of partisan gaps in support across security and humanitarian interventions. A second survey experiment directly manipulates negative partisanship, the president’s party affiliation, and the intervention scenario. The results indicate that negative partisanship can undermine the president’s ability to generate support for intervention, but context matters. Humanitarian interventions provide some insulation from the effects of affective polarization.

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Notes

  1. See appendix for the details of each experiment and the survey instruments.

  2. These data are limited to the period prior to (and on the day of) the election because poll questions gauging candidate and party favorability become scarce after the election is decided.

  3. Included polls are from: May 16–19, 2016 (The Washington Post/ABC News, 2016), June 15–26, 2016 (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2016b), July 8–12, 2016 (New York Times/CBS News, 2016), August 9–16, 2016 (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2016a), September 1–27, 2016 (PRRI, 2016), October 20–25, 2016 (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2016c), November 8, 2016 (National Election Pool (ABC News, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, Fox News, NBC), 2016).

  4. Dynata employs matching to approximate a nationally representative sample. In addition to standard demographics, this sample also matched national levels on party identification, gender, age, and education. Due to financial constraints, experiment two assigned approximately 400 respondents to the terror conditions and just over 200 respondents to the humanitarian conditions. The sample size contributes to the larger confidence intervals surrounding the humanitarian intervention estimates, but does not obscure the magnitude of the effects. The results from the humanitarian intervention scenario are also consistent with pretests with a larger sample, reported in appendix.

  5. The bandwidth for plots in Fig. 1 is 0.80, but the trends remain consistent across alternative specifications.

  6. Based on a logistic regression model specified as: Pr(Ysupport = 1) = logit−10 + β1XHighPartisanship + β2ZHumanitarianIntervention + β3XHighPartisanshipZHumanitarianIntervention), where logit−1 is the inverse logistic link function. Full results and marginal effects are included in the appendix.

  7. Based on a logistic regression model specified as: Pr(Ysupport = 1) = logit−10 + β1XHighPartisanship + β2ZDemocrat + β3XHighPartisanshipZDemocrat), where logit−1 is the inverse logistic link function. There is no evidence that the party of the president or copartisanship with the president significantly moderate the effects of the high partisanship treatment.

  8. Based on the same logistic regression model specified in endnote 6, limiting the sample to only Democrats.

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Maxey, S. Finding the water’s edge: when negative partisanship influences foreign policy attitudes. Int Polit (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-021-00354-9

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Keywords

  • Polarization
  • Military action
  • Humanitarian intervention
  • Public opinion