Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-55b6f6c457-qgndx Total loading time: 0.254 Render date: 2021-09-26T09:14:31.042Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2007

Michael Tomz
Stanford University, E-mail:
Get access


What makes international threats credible? Recent theories point to domestic audience costs—the domestic price a leader would pay for making foreign threats and then backing down. This article provides the first direct evidence of audience costs. The analysis, based on experiments embedded in public opinion surveys, shows that audience costs exist across a wide range of conditions and increase with the level of escalation. The costs are evident throughout the population, and especially among politically active citizens who have the greatest potential to shape government policy. Finally, preliminary evidence suggests that audience costs arise because citizens care about the international reputation of the country or leader. These findings help identify how, and under what conditions, domestic audiences make commitments credible. At the same time, they demonstrate the promise of using experiments to answer previously intractable questions in the field of international relations.I thank Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS), the National Science Foundation (CAREER Grant SES-0548285), and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences for financial support. Colleagues at Knowledge Networks provided invaluable assistance in fielding the surveys. For helpful comments I am grateful to Jim Fearon, Page Fortna, John Freeman, Jon Krosnick, Skip Lupia, Helen Milner, Diana Mutz, Ken Scheve, Ken Schultz, Jas Sekhon, Alastair Smith, Paul Sniderman, Rob Van Houweling, Jonathan Wand, Jessica Weeks, and the anonymous referees. I also thank seminar participants at Berkeley, CASBS, Columbia, Duke, NYU, Rice, and Yale, and conference participations at the International Studies Association and the TESS meetings at the University of Pennsylvania.

© 2007 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Aldrich, John H., Christopher Gelpi, Peter Feaver, Jason Reifler, and Kristin Thompson Sharp. 2006. Foreign Policy and the Electoral Connection. Annual Review of Political Science 9:477502.Google Scholar
Aldrich, John H., John L. Sullivan, and Eugene Borgida. 1989. Foreign Affairs and Issue Voting: Do Presidential Candidates “Waltz Before a Blind Audience?” American Political Science Review 83 (1):12341.Google Scholar
Baum, Matthew A. 2004. Going Private: Public Opinion, Presidential Rhetoric, and the Domestic Politics of Audience Costs in U.S. Foreign Policy Crises. Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 (5):60331.Google Scholar
Brody, Richard A. 1994. Crisis, War, and Public Opinion: The Media and Public Support for the President. In Taken by Storm: The Media, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy in the Gulf War, edited by W. Lance Bennett and David L. Paletz, 21027. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Broz, J. Lawrence. 2002. Political System Transparency and Monetary Commitment Regimes. International Organization 56 (4):86187.Google Scholar
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, and Scott de Marchi. 2002. Presidential Approval and Legislative Success. Journal of Politics 64 (2):491509.Google Scholar
Desch, Michael C. 2002. Democracy and Victory: Why Regime Type Hardly Matters. International Security 27 (2):547.Google Scholar
Dorussen, Han, and Jongryn Mo. 2001. Ending Economic Sanctions: Audience Costs and Rent-Seeking as Commitment Strategies. Journal of Conflict Resolution 45 (4):395426.Google Scholar
Edwards, George C., Jr. 1997. Aligning Tests with Theory: Presidential Approval as a Source of Influence in Congress. Congress & the Presidency 24 (2):11330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Eyerman, Joe, and Robert A. Hart Jr. 1996. An Empirical Test of the Audience Cost Proposition: Democracy Speaks Louder than Words. Journal of Conflict Resolution 40 (4):597616.Google Scholar
Fearon, James D. 1994. Domestic Political Audiences and the Escalation of International Disputes. American Political Science Review 88 (3):57792.Google Scholar
Gaubatz, Kurt Taylor. 1996. Democratic States and Commitment in International Relations. International Organization 50 (1):10939.Google Scholar
Gelman, Andrew, John B. Carlin, Hal S. Stern, and Donald B. Rubin. 2004. Bayesian Data Analysis. 2d ed. New York: Chapman & Hall/CRC.
Gelpi, Christopher F., and Michael Griesdorf. 2001. Winners or Losers? Democracies in International Crisis, 1918–94. American Political Science Review 95 (3):63347.Google Scholar
Gelpi, Christopher, Jason Reifler, and Peter Feaver. 2007. Iraq the Vote: Retrospective and Prospective Foreign Policy Judgments on Candidate Choice and Casualty Tolerance. Political Behavior 29 (2):15174.Google Scholar
Gowa, Joanne S. 1999. Ballots and Bullets: The Elusive Democratic Peace. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Gronke, Paul, Jeffrey Koch, and J. Matthew Wilson. 2003. Follow the Leader? Presidential Approval, Presidential Support, and Representatives' Electoral Fortunes. Journal of Politics 65 (36):785808.Google Scholar
Guisinger, Alexandra, and Alastair Smith. 2002. Honest Threats: The Interaction of Reputation and Political Institutions in International Crises. Journal of Conflict Resolution 46 (2):175200.Google Scholar
Herrmann, Richard K., and Vaughn P. Shannon. 2001. Defending International Norms: The Role of Obligation, Material Interest, and Perception in Decision Making. International Organization 55 (3):62154.Google Scholar
Herrmann, Richard K., Philip E. Tetlock, and Penny S. Visser. 1999. Mass Public Decisions to Go to War: A Cognitive-Interactionist Framework. American Political Science Review 93 (3):55373.Google Scholar
Jensen, Nathan M. 2003. Democratic Governance and Multinational Corporations: Political Regimes and Inflows of Foreign Direct Investment. International Organization 57 (3):587616.Google Scholar
Jones, Daniel M., Stuart A. Bremer, and J. David Singer. 1996. Militarized Interstate Disputes, 1816–1992: Rationale, Coding Rules, and Empirical Patterns. Conflict Management and Peace Science 15 (2):163213.Google Scholar
Krosnick, Jon A., and Donald R. Kinder. 1990. Altering the Foundations of Support for the President Through Priming. American Political Science Review 84 (2):497512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Leeds, Brett Ashley. 1999. Domestic Political Institutions, Credible Commitments, and International Cooperation. American Journal of Political Science 43 (4):9791002.Google Scholar
Leventoǧlu, Bahar, and Ahmer Tarar. 2005. Prenegotiation Public Commitment in Domestic and International Bargaining. American Political Science Review 99 (3):41933.Google Scholar
Lipson, Charles. 2003. Reliable Partners: How Democracies Have Made a Separate Peace. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Mansfield, Edward D., Helen V. Milner, and B. Peter Rosendorff. 2002. Why Democracies Cooperate More: Electoral Control and International Trade Agreements. International Organization 56 (3):477513.Google Scholar
Martin, Lisa L. 1993. Credibility, Costs, and Institutions: Cooperation on Economic Sanctions. World Politics 45 (3):40632.Google Scholar
McGillivray, Fiona, and Alastair Smith. 2000. Trust and Cooperation Through Agent-Specific Punishments. International Organization 54 (4):80924.Google Scholar
Partell, Peter J., and Glenn Palmer. 1999. Audience Costs and Interstate Crises: An Empirical Assessment of Fearon's Model of Dispute Outcomes. International Studies Quarterly 43 (2):389405.Google Scholar
Prins, Brandon C. 2003. Institutional Instability and the Credibility of Audience Costs: Political Participation and Interstate Crisis Bargaining, 1816–1992. Journal of Peace Research 40 (1):6784.Google Scholar
Ramsay, Kristopher W. 2004. Politics at the Water's Edge: Crisis Bargaining and Electoral Competition. Journal of Conflict Resolution 48 (4):45986.Google Scholar
Schultz, Kenneth A. 1999. Do Democratic Institutions Constrain or Inform? Contrasting Two Institutional Perspectives on Democracy and War. International Organization 53 (2):23366.Google Scholar
Schultz, Kenneth A. 2001a. Democracy and Coercive Diplomacy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schultz, Kenneth A. 2001b. Looking for Audience Costs. Journal of Conflict Resolution 45 (1):3260.Google Scholar
Slantchev, Branislav L. 2006. Politicians, the Media, and Domestic Audience Costs. International Studies Quarterly 50 (2):44577.Google Scholar
Smith, Alastair. 1996. To Intervene or Not to Intervene: A Biased Decision. Journal of Conflict Resolution 40 (1):1640.Google Scholar
Smith, Alastair. 1998. International Crises and Domestic Politics. American Political Science Review 92 (3):62338.Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Kay Lehman Schlozman, Henry Brady, and Norman H. Nie. 1993. Citizen Activity: Who Participates? What Do They Say? American Political Science Review 87 (2):30318.Google Scholar
Walt, Stephen M. 1999. Rigor or Rigor Mortis? Rational Choice and Security Studies. International Security 23 (4):548.Google Scholar
Weeks, Jessica. Forthcoming. Autocratic Audience Costs: Regime Type and Signaling Resolve. International Organization.
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Domestic Audience Costs in International Relations: An Experimental Approach
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *