Public Opinion and Foreign Policy: Beyond the ‘Electoral Connection’

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In democracies, an “electoral connection” ties foreign policy to public opinion. By contrast, scholars and practitioners have long depicted authoritarian elites as free of the constraint of public opinion, and thus at an advantage in foreign policy making. Taking China as a case study, we explore whether public opinion might shape foreign policy in non-democracies as well. Specifically, we explore 1) the origins of public opinion about foreign policy, 2) how it shapes foreign policy (mediators / mechanisms), and 3) under what scope conditions (when) the relationship holds most (moderators)—in both democracies and non-democracies. We suggest that public opinion may matter even more for foreign policy in non-democracies like China that rely on nationalist claims to legitimate rule, but lack the procedural legitimacy that comes from voting in democracies—especially when authoritarian elites are divided. We thus challenge the idea that public opinion creates a uniform “democratic disadvantage / authoritarian advantage” in foreign policy making.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Politics and Public Opinion
EditorsThomas Rudolph
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781800379619
ISBN (Print)9781800379602
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2022


  • democracy
  • state legitimation
  • nationalism
  • authoritarianism
  • public opinion
  • foreign policy


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