Beyond Reading the Tea Leaves: Using Data to Understand Partisanship and Foreign Policy

Guest bloggers Jonathan Monten, Department of Political Science, University of Oklahoma, and Josh Busby, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas-Austin (on twitter @busbyj2)

For many observers of American politics, the fight over the nomination of Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense is indicative of growing partisan acrimony in the conduct of US foreign policy. However, concerns about intensifying partisanship in foreign affairs are not new. A number of scholars including Shapiro and Bloch-Elkon, Trubowitz and Mellow, and Bafumi and Parent have warned that, in the two decades since the end of the Cold War, partisanship in foreign policy has been on the rise. According to this narrative, US foreign policy since the end of World War II was underpinned by broad, bipartisan support for an international strategy based on both projecting military power internationally and a commitment to multilateral institutions and agreements. Many of these same scholars, including Kupchan and Trubowitz, now warn that the bipartisan consensus in favor of this strategy – commonly referred to as “liberal internationalism” – is now unraveling. These scholars cite a number of explanations driving this trend, such as the end of the threat posed by the Soviet Union, ideological polarization among the parties, and generational change. From this point of view, the Bush administration’s embrace of unilateralism after September 11th was not an aberration, but rather reflected a long-running and irreversible trend.

About five years ago, we asked ourselves what evidence we could bring to bear on assessing this claim. We looked at a variety of data: Congressional voting, party electoral platforms, Presidential State of the Union speeches, public opinion data (including survey data collected by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs), and information on the educational and biographical backgrounds of individuals serving in high-level foreign policy positions. If the claim that support for liberal internationalism was in decline were accurate, we would expect to see evidence of this decreasing support in each of these areas. Instead, as we demonstrated in a 2008 piece in Perspectives on Politics and a subsequent 2012 piece in Political Science Quarterly, we found a more mixed picture than what the conventional wisdom suggests. Continue reading

Best Picture (of all time)

Oscar statueBy Dina Smeltz

In honor of the 85th annual Academy awards (now officially rebranded as The Oscars) being presented on Sunday, this week I am sharing  the results of a 2012 survey of international film critics and directors conducted by Sight and Sound, a British monthly film magazine published by the British Film Institute.  The survey is conducted once every ten years, and asks film professionals to vote for the greatest film of all time.

While a blog posting on film may seem misplaced on a blog about foreign policy, for public diplomacy practitioners, cinema is an important channel for facilitating international cultural understanding.   Richard Wilke of Pew Research recently noted that American films and popular culture are a strong element of American soft power. Among the film professionals themselves, the international flavor of the critics and directors’ top ten lists reveals an appreciation for film’s ability to project longstanding universal themes and inspire craft and direction.

The 2012 Sight and Sound participants were contacted online and included 846 critics and 358 directors. Although critics and directors from over 70 countries were sampled, the largest portion of participants came from the the UK (25% overall) and the US (18%); about half of the critics and a third of the directors are either American or British.  About a third of the total sample is European- including a few from central and east European countries.  The rest consist of a scattering of responses from other Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, New Zealand), Latin America, East Asia (Japan, Hong Kong, China, Korea), India, Africa and the Middle East.

By gender, the critics sample was 18 percent women, and the directors sample 15 percent women.  Since it was conducted online, the sample was self-selected, which is not ideal of course, and I couldn’t find any information about attempts for callbacks.  I note some other methodological caveats at the end of this post.

The respondents were asked to choose the ten most important films ever made and instructed that they should use their personal interpretations: “You might choose the ten films you feel are most important to film history, or the ten that represent the aesthetic pinnacles of achievement, or indeed the ten films that have had the biggest impact on your own view of cinema.” Each entry on each list counts as one vote for the film mentioned, so personal rankings within the top tens were not taken into account.

And the envelope, please … Continue reading

Like Father, Like Son

Last summer the New York Times reported that some North Korea watchers wondered whether rising hem lines and heels among women on the streets of downtown Pyongyang signaled that Kim Jong-un would lead the country in a different style than his father, Kim Jong-il.  Well, this week we found out that in terms of his dealing with North Korea’s pursuit of their nuclear weapons, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s not yet clear whether it was successful or not, but the news broke Monday evening/Tuesday morning that Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test (following two attempts at long range missile tests last year).  Americans are fairly anxious about the threat of rogue nations developing nuclear weapons, and this certainly could heighten fears among those who worry about the nuclear ambitions of North Korea.  The Chicago Council’s June 2012 survey results found American’s consider North Korea’s nuclear capability the clearest threat in Asia, and more broadly, they consider preventing the spread of nuclear weapons as one of the top threats to US foreign policy goals. Continue reading