The constraining dynamics of public opinion
Wyckoff, Christopher A.
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Since the beginning of the Cold War, the influence of public opinion on presidential decision-making has been debated. Because the United States is a democracy, one would expect that public opinion and the ideas and concerns of the people should weigh on the decisions of the policy makers. In theory, at least, presidential decision-makers should not solely determine policy. Yet most presidential administrations would have the public believe that they are leading, not following, public opinion based on their inherent charge as elected officials to advocate what they perceive to be in the best interest of the country. It is important to understand the relationship between public opinion and executive decision-makers. Comparing U.S. policies implemented in response to terrorist attacks against U.S. sovereignty and Iraq's persistent pursuit of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by presidents from two different political parties offers an opportunity to analyze how public opinion is viewed by presidents, what actions the administrations took to influence public opinion, and whether public opinion ultimately affected the foreign policy decision-making of the executive. How and when public opinion constrains policymakers and their options is essential to understanding why certain policy decisions for the use of force are made and what decisions can be predicted in the future.
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