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The Impact of Political Apologies on Public Opinion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 June 2021

Abstract

Apology diplomacy promises to assuage historical grievances held by foreign publics, yet in practice appears to ignite domestic backlash, raising questions about its efficacy. This article develops a theory of how political apologies affect public approval of an apologizing government across domestic and foreign contexts. The authors test its implications using large-scale survey experiments in Japan and the United States. In the surveys, the authors present vignettes about World War II grievances and randomize the nature of a government apology. They find that apology-making, both as statements acknowledging wrongdoing and as expressions of remorse, boosts approval in the recipient state. But in the apologizing state, backlash is likely among individuals with strong hierarchical group dispositions—manifested as nationalism, social-dominance orientation, and conservatism—and among those who do not consider the recipient a strategically important partner. This microlevel evidence reveals how leaders face a crucial trade-off between improving support abroad and risking backlash at home, with implications for the study of diplomatic communication and transitional justice.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 2021

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