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Drezner on Public Opinion and Realism

Abstract: For more than half a century, realist scholars of international relations have maintained that their worldview is inimical to the American public. For a variety of reasons - inchoate attitudes, national history, American exceptionalism - realists assert that the U.S. government pursues realist policies in spite and not because of public opinion. This paper takes a closer look at the anti-realist assumption by examining survey data and the empirical literature on the mass public’s attitudes towards foreign policy priorities and worldviews, the use of force, and foreign economic policy over the past three decades. The results suggest that far from disliking realism, Americans are at least as comfortable with the logic of realpolitik as they are with liberal internationalism. The persistence of the anti-realist assumption might be due to an ironic fact. American elites are more predisposed towards liberal internationalism than the rest of the American public.

Daniel W. Drezner (forthcoming), “The Realist Tradition in American Public Opinion,” Perspectives on Politics. Available here.

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