Policy, Not Consistency

“Obama’s sales pitch on Syria”, CNN


Students of public opinion and foreign policy know individuals have diverse preferences, yet pragmatism often leads them to abstract these nuances away. Unfortunately, this approach risks obscuring important dynamics. I use audience costs theory – which holds that leaders can tie their hands by issuing public statements since their constituency would punish them for saying one thing but doing another – as case in point. Using a game theoretic model and survey experiments, I propose a theory of audience costs driven by preferences that (1) reproduces the central findings of audience cost theory and reunites it with many of its critiques, (2) reveals how different publics (only hawks, only doves, mixed) shape leader’s strategic incentives, (3) sheds light on new dynamics, explaining when leaders are most credible and why they may decide to lie, and that (4) is neither contingent on the presence of a domestic opposition nor vunerable to executive justifications.

under review