The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Foreign Policy and the Manipulation of Public Opinion

Thu, February 4, 2010

A professor and former graduate student have received the Best Paper Award from the Foreign Policy Section of the 2009 American Political Science Association annual conference. The paper, “Partisan Ambitions and Scapegoat Theory: U.S.-China Relations in Political Perspective,” is by Peter Trubowitz, associate professor of Government, and Jungkun Seo, who received his Ph.D. in 2007 and is assistant professor in the Department of Public and International Affairs at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

Trubowitz and Seo show that leaders frequently use foreign policy to solve domestic problems, but they do so in ways that traditional diversionary war or scapegoat theories of international politics do not predict. In contrast to scapegoat theory, which assumes that leaders use foreign crises and threats to rally and unify their publics, they argue that leaders use foreign policy to divide and segment domestic opinion. Moreover, they show that often it is the party-out-of-power, not the party-in-power, that manipulates foreign crises and threats for electoral gain. They develop this argument through an analysis of three cases involving U.S. foreign policy toward China. In each case, leaders of the party-out-of-power used China as a “wedge issue” to divide and weaken the party-in-power – sometimes at considerable cost to America’s geopolitical interests and domestic civil liberties.

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