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The “Mood Theory”: A Study of Public Opinion and Foreign Policy*

  • William R. Caspary (a1)
Extract

This paper is concerned with assessing the stability of the American public's attention to foreign affairs, and the relationship of this to public support of international programs and commitments. In particular, the paper presents an empirical investigation of the evidence for the “mood theory” proposed by Gabriel Almond as one element of his classic study, The American People and Foreign Policy.

The mood theory contends, first of all, that attention to or interest in foreign policy is generally low and subject to major fluctuations in times of crisis.

The characteristic response to questions of foreign policy is one of indifference. A foreign policy crisis, short of the immediate threat of war may transform indifference to vague apprehension, to fatalism, to anger; but the reaction is still a mood.

On the basis of this premise about attention, Almond predicts that the public will not provide stable support for international commitments undertaken by the U.S. Government.

Because of the superficial character of American attitudes toward world politics … a temporary Russian tactical withdrawal may produce strong tendencies toward demobilization and the reassertion of the primacy of private and domestic values.

The acceptance of this view by scholars is evidenced by its presentation in important textbooks and treatises. As far as I have been able to determine it has not been challenged.

The empirical investigation in this paper considers evidence on both of these variables—attention=interest, and support for foreign policy commitments.

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This research is a segment of a larger project on public reaction to international events (see also, William R. Caspary, “United States Public Opinion During the Onset of the Cold War,” Peace Research Society (International), Papers, IX (1968), 25–46; and “Dimensions of Attitudes on International Conflict,” Peace Research Society (International), Papers XIII (1970, forthcoming). This research has been partially supported by grants from Northwestern University and Washington University. Survey data of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), and the American Institute of Public Opinion (AIPO), was obtained from the Roper Public Opinion Research Center. Supplementary survey data was provided by the library of NORC. The author gratefully acknowledges the help he received from these sources and from individuals associated with these institutions.

It may interest the reader that, during the more than four years that have elapsed since this article was first written in substantially the present form, my own interests have shifted considerably. If one is passionately concerned as I am with the injustice of the U.S. globalist—or, if you will, imperialist—foreign policy, research of the sort presented here seems a rather sterile exercise. My current work is devoted to a study of the economic, ideological, and bureaucratic sources of American interventionism in the undeveloped world.

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1 Almond, Gabriel A., The American People and Foreign Policy (New York: Praeger, 1960), p. 53.

2 Op. cit., p. 55. See also pp. 60, 80, 99, 106.

3 See for example, Rosenau, James N., Public Opinion and Foreign Policy (New York: Random House, 1961), pp. 3537; Needler, Martin C., Understanding Foreign Policy (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966), p. 23; Furniss, Edgar S. Jr., and Snyder, Richard C., An Introduction to American Foreign Policy (New York: Rinehart, 1955), p. 198; Cohen, Bernard C., The Political Process and Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 55.

4 Almond, op. cit., p. 88.

5 Ibid., p. 85.

6 Ibid., p. 72.

7 Ibid., p. 71.

8 Ibid., p. 73.

9 Ibid., p. 56.

10 Ibid.

11 Rosenau, op. cit., p. 40.

12 Quoted by Rosenau, ibid.

13 A slightly different interpretation of these marginals from AIPO Survey No. 596, item 2, has appeared in an article by Deutsch and Merritt. See appendix for details.

14 Smith, Paul A., “Opinions, Publics, and World Affairs in the United States,” Western Political Quarterly, 14 (1961), 698714; Deutsch, Karl W. and Merritt, Richard L., “Effects of Events on National and International Images,” in Kelman, Herbert C. (ed.), International Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965).

15 Almond, op. cit., p. 72 (see quote, above, p. 5, footnote 6).

* This research is a segment of a larger project on public reaction to international events (see also, William R. Caspary, “United States Public Opinion During the Onset of the Cold War,” Peace Research Society (International), Papers, IX (1968), 25–46; and “Dimensions of Attitudes on International Conflict,” Peace Research Society (International), Papers XIII (1970, forthcoming). This research has been partially supported by grants from Northwestern University and Washington University. Survey data of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC), and the American Institute of Public Opinion (AIPO), was obtained from the Roper Public Opinion Research Center. Supplementary survey data was provided by the library of NORC. The author gratefully acknowledges the help he received from these sources and from individuals associated with these institutions.

It may interest the reader that, during the more than four years that have elapsed since this article was first written in substantially the present form, my own interests have shifted considerably. If one is passionately concerned as I am with the injustice of the U.S. globalist—or, if you will, imperialist—foreign policy, research of the sort presented here seems a rather sterile exercise. My current work is devoted to a study of the economic, ideological, and bureaucratic sources of American interventionism in the undeveloped world.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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