Let’s Get a Second Opinion: International Institutions and American Public Support for War


  •  For comments on earlier drafts of this paper, we thank Carol Atkinson, Marco Cesa, Michael Cox, Timothy Dunn, Scott de Marchi, Matthew Evangelista, Ole Holsti, Jonathan Kirshner, Mathew McCubbins, and John Transue. We also thank participants who provided comments on earlier drafts of this paper at workshops at Cornell University, Exeter University, the Bologna Center of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, the London School of Economics, Stanford University, and the University of California at San Diego. For their work as research assistants, we thank Lauren Maisel, Jessica So, and Holly Teresi. This research was supported by grants from the Carnegie Corporation (Peter Feaver and Bruce Jentleson, Principal Co-Investigators) and the National Science Foundation (SGER Grant Number 0424085; Peter Feaver, Principal Investigator).


Recent scholarship on international institutions has begun to explore potentially powerful indirect pathways by which international institutions may influence states’ domestic politics and thereby influence the foreign policy preferences and strategies of state leaders. In this paper, we provide evidence documenting the indirect impact of institutional cues on public support for the use of force through an analysis of individual-level survey data and a survey-based experiment that examines support for a hypothetical American intervention in East Timor. We find that institutional endorsements increase support for the use of force among members of the American public who value the institution making the endorsement and among those who do not have confidence in the president. These individual-level analyses show that international institutions can affect domestic support for military action by serving providing a valuable “second opinion” on the proposed use of force.