Delineating the Scope Conditions of the Poliheuristic Theory of Foreign Policy Decision Making: The Noncompensatory Principle and the Domestic Salience of Foreign Policy


  • Author's notes: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Annual Convention of the International Studies Association in Montreal. I wish to thank Klaus Brummer, Charles F. Hermann, Thomas Jäger, and Steven B. Redd, as well as the anonymous reviewers and journal editors at FPA for their comments and suggestions.


The poliheuristic theory of foreign policy decision making would benefit from being clearer in spelling out the conditions under which it holds more or less analytic promise. The article makes the case that the concept of issue salience can help the theory address its shortcomings in this respect. In particular, the explanatory power of poliheuristic theory's two-stage model largely depends on the noncompensatory principle of major domestic political loss avoidance on the first stage of the model to simplify the choice set to be considered on the second stage. This is more likely to happen, however, in the case of issues that are highly salient to a government's selectorate than in the case of issues that are of low salience in the domestic arena. The poliheuristic theory should thus be more powerful if it is applied to domestic high-salience rather than low-salience decisions. These theoretical contentions are illustrated in a case study on the decision making of the British Labour government under Tony Blair in the fields of European security and defense policy and the single European currency.