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Domestic Audiences and Strategic Interests


Joe Clare is assistant professor of political science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803-5433.


A number of recent studies assumes that international threats issued by democratic states are more credible because their leaders face domestic punishment for failing to carry them out. Yet this argument is ultimately premised on an invariant willingness of the domestic audience to punish an incumbent for reneging on a threat. I relax this assumption and instead allow for the audience's preferences to vary according to its evaluation of the salience of the interests at stake. This theoretical modification generates several novel predictions that are strongly supported in the empirical tests. The analysis shows that democratic leaders engage in bluffs and even back down if their bluff is called. It also specifies the conditions under which democratic threats are considered credible or not, as well as the critical interplay between domestic costs and strategic interests that may lead to war.