Think Ahead: Cost Discounting and External Validity in Foreign Policy Survey Experiments

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Authors Richard J. Huddleston
Paper Category
Paper Abstract The Obama administration’s 2013 policy crisis concerning intervention in the Syrian civil war features the domestic audience acting opposite our most pivotal theoretical predictions. Initial polls showed support for intervention, but the audience resisted Obama’s efforts to follow through on his threat, forcing him to change course and back down. This contradicts the audience cost proposal that citizens prefer consistency by leaders. The reversal can be explained by measurement error in early polls. I argue that survey experiments on audience preferences, which lack information on context and cost, have measurement error problems as bad as or worse than polls on opinion in real crises. I push for revamped tests that account for the types of response error studied in psychology and economics. Security scholars should try to put experimental subjects in the same frame of mind they are in when making decisions about their political opinions. I provide experimental evidence for the need to start adjusting for these measurement problems, and I propose an agenda for making inferential improvements to experimental studies of public opinion on international conflict.
Date of publication 2019
Code Programming Language R

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