Partisan polarization and international politics
- Rachel Myrick
- [Stanford, California] : [Stanford University], 2021
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- Myrick, Rachel Maureen, author.
- Schultz, Kenneth A., degree supervisor.
- Tomz, Michael, degree committee member.
- Weinstein, Jeremy M., degree committee member.
- Stanford University. Department of Political Science.
- This dissertation explores the relationship between partisan polarization and international politics. The project asks two questions. The primary question is: How does polarization affect the way democracies behave in international politics? Relative to non-democracies, democracies are generally better at keeping foreign policy consistent despite regular leadership turnover (stability advantage), credibly signaling information to adversaries (credibility advantage), and maintaining their international commitments (reliability advantage). I argue that extreme polarization undermines these "democratic advantages" by eroding the vertical and horizontal constraints on political power that confer them. I build evidence for this argument by leveraging new cross-national data on foreign policy positions of executives in 55 democratic countries from 1945-2015. I then focus on how polarization affects contemporary American foreign policy. Drawing on three original survey experiments, analyses of descriptive data on the behavior of political officials, and a series of elite interviews conducted in Washington, D.C., I show that growing polarization makes the United States a less credible adversary and less reliable ally. The secondary question this dissertation asks is: How does a state's security environment affect domestic polarization? A common explanation for the increasing polarization in contemporary American foreign policy is the absence of external threat. Using three methods—computational text analysis of congressional speeches, examination of historic public opinion polls, and a survey experiment about threats from a rival foreign power—I find that the external threat hypothesis has limited ability to explain either polarization in US foreign policy or affective polarization among the American public. Instead, responses to external threats reflect the domestic political environment in which they are introduced. Overall, this dissertation project emphasizes that partisan polarization is an important and under-explored source of variation in democratic foreign policymaking. I argue that we have little evidence that international threats have major impacts on domestic polarization. However, polarization over foreign affairs has important—and largely negative—consequences for the stability, credibility, and reliability of democratic states
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- Submitted to the Department of Political Science
- Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2021