The Iraq Coalition of the Willing and (Politically) Able: Party Systems, the Press, and Public Influence on Foreign Policy


  • For research assistance, I am grateful to Kuyoun Chung, Jamie Georgia, Shuhei Kurizaki, Peter Li, Phil Potter, Daniel Quan, and Yuri Zhukov. I also wish to thank Larry Bartels and Ken Schultz, whose thoughtful critique of a related paper inspired this project, as well as the participants at workshops and seminars at Duke, Texas A&M, The University of Texas, Austin, The University of Michigan, and Harvard. This research was supported by a grant from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

Matthew A. Baum is Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government and Department of Government, Mailbox 113, 79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 (


Media outlets in multiparty electoral systems tend to report on a wider range of policy issues than media in two-party systems. They thus make more competing policy frames available to citizens. This suggests that a “free press” is insufficient to hold governments accountable. Rather, we should observe more challenges to the governments’ preferred frames and more politically aware citizens in multiparty democracies. Such citizens should thus be better equipped to hold their leaders accountable, relative to their counterparts in two-party democracies. I propose a mechanism through which democratic publics can sometimes constrain their leaders in foreign policy. I test hypotheses derived from my theory with cross-national data on the content of news coverage of Iraq, on public support for the war, and on decisions to contribute troops to the Iraq “Coalition of the Willing.” I find that citizens in countries with larger numbers of parties confronted more critical and diverse coverage of Iraq, while those with more widespread access to mass media were more likely to oppose the war and their nations likely to contribute fewer troops to the Coalition.