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.