Going Public Abroad: Why do leaders address foreign publics?

In 1939, as the UK was barreling towards war with Germany, the King and Queen of England visited the United States and toured five states with President Roosevelt. On March 13, 2015-- two weeks before a closely contested election in Israel-- Prime Minister Netanyahu traveled to the United States to address Congress. Why spend such significant time and resources on these trips? While many dismiss this public diplomacy as strategically insignificant, I argue that these seemingly low-cost appeals can be a valuable political strategy under the right conditions. Leaders can use such appeals to foreign audiences to indirectly influence either the government of the foreign country or their own domestic audience.

My dissertation builds on existing literature in public opinion and theories of international relations to explain foreign visits.  Because most citizens form their policy opinions based on elite cues, low-cost statements from leaders can sometimes shape the conversation surrounding a policy issue in another country. By influencing the political discourse and public opinion in a foreign country, leaders can place strategic political constraints on the leaders of those countries. Furthermore, political leaders often require both domestic support and cooperation from other countries in order to achieve foreign policy goals. So, leaders must play a two-level game, trying to satisfy both audiences even though their preferences may not be aligned. Rather than merely limiting a leader’s policy options, I argue that this tension can be exploited by a leader to help him communicate credibly to his domestic audience.  Leaders can leverage an international backlash to signal alignment with their domestic audience and increase their domestic support. I develop a formal model to identify the conditions under which a leader can benefit from this counter-intuitive strategy.

My strategy to test these claims draws on both theoretical and empirical traditions. First, I collect data on 2,678 international trips made by 33 G20 leaders from 2004 to 2016 along with daily internet searches and media coverage to test when foreign leaders can garner attention abroad. Next I use detailed case studies and public opinion data to examine when leaders can persuade a foreign audience or use a foreign backlash to build domestic support. I match micro-level trade exposure data with survey data from the UK to demonstrate that Obama had a significant influence on the Brexit debate during his 2016 visit. Additionally, I combine the geographic route of the British royal couple in 1939 with survey data to show that they had a measurable effect on American public opinion on intervention into WWII.


Under Review


The Authoritarian Wager: Mass Political Action and the Sudden Collapse of Repression. with Branislav Slantchev

Authoritarian rulers sometimes repress mass political action against their regimes and sometimes allow it to happen even if it leads to social conflict and their ouster. The sudden collapse of repression in regimes that had formerly relied on it is especially puzzling when governments have well-funded and reliable security forces that could have been used. We develop a game-theoretic model that explores the incentives of authoritarian rulers to repress and allow more open contestation. Rulers who do not know the distribution of preferences among the citizens must employ indiscriminate repression that makes any political action costly. If rulers have the capacity to fully repress any political action, then they create despotic regimes. But if their capacity is constrained and they expect that some challenges might occur, then they might prefer to make contestation as open as possible. Because the regime survives unless challenged by opponents, there is a status quo bias in favor of its supporters, which makes them less likely to come to its defense. We identify conditions under which this emboldens opponents sufficiently to overcome the costs and risks of taking action against the regime. In these cases, rulers can be better off abandoning repression in order to encourage their supporters to act. In doing so, they must wager their survival on the outcome of the ensuing conflict.

When Does Statebuilding Work? Military Intervention and the Lifespan of Previously Failed States. with David Lake

What is the effect of armed statebuilding on the survival of previously failed states? Do military interventions by great powers or international organizations during periods of state failure increase the subsequent durability of “rehabilitated states”? Fearing ungoverned spaces, the international community responds to failed states by funneling aid, experts, peacekeepers, and military forces in various guises into conflict zones with the ambition of rebuilding effective states. There has been relatively little research, however, on whether such interventions – especially in their most ambitious and extreme forms as indicated by armed interventions – are effective. Using multiple definitions of state failure, and the set of military interventions by great powers or international organizations, we develop a model of state failure with baseline covariates from the Political Instability Task Force model. We examine all states that have failed and their subsequent durability in the period 1956-2006. Under most model specifications, armed statebuilding has no significant effect on later state survival. However, we find that military interventions can prolong the time to the next failure when a failed autocracy democratizes and when the statebuilder does not move the failed state’s policies closer to its own. These results challenge current statebuilding practices.


Working Papers

Willing to Talk? Comparing Diplomatic Systems in the 19th and 20th Century. with Shuhei Kurizaki

When and why do states choose to establish and terminate diplomatic relations with other states? Do diplomatic exchanges follow economic, strategic, or political interest?  To answer these questions, we are collecting annual data on bilateral diplomatic relations among European states in the 19th century (1815-1913) and global bilateral relations in the 20th century (1945-2017).  With this data, we will analyze the determinants of diplomatic relations in order to evaluate how the use of both formal and physical diplomatic relations has changed over time and varies between countries.