In Search of Soft Power: Does Foreign Public Opinion Matter for U.S. Foreign Policy?
World Politics, Vol. 64, Issue 3, pp. 555-585., 2012
50 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2011 Last revised: 4 Sep 2014
Date Written: January 24, 2012
Does “soft power” matter in international relations? Specifically, when the U.S. seeks cooperation from countries around the world, do the views of their publics about U.S. foreign policy affect the actual foreign policy behavior of these countries? We examine this question using multinational surveys covering 58 countries, combined with information about their foreign policy decisions in 2003, a critical year for the U.S. We draw our basic conceptual framework from Joseph Nye, who uses various indicators of opinion about the U.S. to assess U.S. soft power. But we argue that his theory lacks the specificity needed for falsifiable testing. We refine it by focusing on foreign public opinion about U.S. foreign policy, an under-emphasized element of Nye’s approach. Our regression analysis shows that it has a significant and large effect on troop commitments to the war in Iraq, even after controlling for various hard power factors. It also has significant, albeit small, effects on policies towards the International Criminal Court, and on voting decisions in the U.N. General Assembly. These results support our refined theoretical argument about soft-power: Public opinion about U.S. foreign policy in foreign countries does affect their policies towards the U.S., but this effect is conditional on the salience of an issue for mass publics.
Keywords: soft power, US foreign policy, public opinion, Iraq War
JEL Classification: C21, D74, D78
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation