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The Credibility of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach

  • AZUSA KATAGIRI (a1) and ERIC MIN (a2)


Crisis bargaining literature has predominantly used formal and qualitative methods to debate the relative efficacy of actions, public words, and private words. These approaches have overlooked the reality that policymakers are bombarded with information and struggle to adduce actual signals from endless noise. Material actions are therefore more effective than any diplomatic communication in shaping elites’ perceptions. Moreover, while ostensibly “costless,” private messages provide a more precise communication channel than public and “costly” pronouncements. Over 18,000 declassified documents from the Berlin Crisis of 1958–63 reflecting private statements, public statements, and White House evaluations of Soviet resolve are digitized and processed using statistical learning techniques to assess these claims. The results indicate that material actions have greater influence on the White House than either public or private statements; that public statements are noisier than private statements; and that private statements have a larger effect on evaluations of resolve than public statements.


Corresponding author

*Azusa Katagiri, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Global Affairs, School of Social Sciences, Nanyang Technological University,
Eric Min, Assistant Professor of Political Science, 3254 Bunche Hall, University of California,


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Names are in alphabetical order. We thank Ken Schultz, Jim Fearon, Scott Sagan, Justin Grimmer, Janet Box-Steffensmeier, Jeffrey Friedman, and Robert Gulotty; participants at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Society for Political Methodology, 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2017 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, and 2017 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association; and Sabine Carey and our four anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments and encouragement. Azusa Katagiri acknowledges the support of the Suntory Foundation. Eric Min expresses gratitude for the support of the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship #DGE-114747. Lastly, we both thank the Stanford Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, as well as Mai Hasegawa for valuable research assistance. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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The Credibility of Public and Private Signals: A Document-Based Approach

  • AZUSA KATAGIRI (a1) and ERIC MIN (a2)


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