Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

1-1-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Jonathan Winburn

Abstract

Even though U.S. foreign policy has gained considerable traction over the years in terms of a serious issue domain at both the mass level and within the academy, we are still just beginning to understand how the American people inform their views in this area of government activity. We often notice that support among the American public is mixed when it comes to U.S. foreign policy standing to benefit different groups. Americans tend to be supportive of foreign policies that may benefit one group of people while giving lukewarm support if another group of people may benefit. Prior studies on public opinion and foreign policy routinely adhere to traditional theories in describing political attitudes and never think outside of rigid theoretical boxes, thus greatly limiting their scope of analysis. Extending the research on mass opinion toward U.S. foreign policy, I argue social identity theory can help explain American’s tendency to exhibit different levels of support toward U.S. foreign policy. In short, groups support policies that will benefit their own ingroups. This project discusses the phenomena in social identity theory known as “self-enhancement” – which I believe is key to understanding why domestic groups choose to support U.S. foreign policy that benefits particular groups over others. Employing data from the 2010 Global Views study conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, survey data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, as well as an original survey experiment utilizing Qualtrics, I show the self-enhancement tactic known as racial solidarity increases the desire of different social groups as expressed through race to feel more warmly towards specific countries and people of similar race to their own. I also show that racial solidarity provokes individuals to place more value on such countries’ strategic relationship to the U.S. and to express more support toward supplying such countries and people with U.S. humanitarian aid and resources. The findings of this dissertation suggest that Americans are not as calculated, rational, or strategic as one may think when it comes to formulating their attitudes toward our nation’s foreign policy. Rather, just as we see on the domestic front, Americans engage in symbolic politics and allow race to occupy an important role even in foreign policy. The evidence suggests that American citizens tend to think in terms of what is best for their social group when it comes to foreign policy as opposed to the welfare of the nation as a whole.

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