Public opinion on foreign policy the multilateral public that perceives itself as unilateral

Alexander Todorov, Anesu N. Mandisodza

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Americans have a strong preference for multilateral foreign policies over unilateral foreign policies. But do Americans know their own preferences? Data from a national survey show wide misperceptions of public opinion on foreign policy. While Americans strongly prefer multilateral policies, they overestimate public support for unilateral policies. For example, while only 23 percent of respondents agreed that the more important lesson of September 11 is that the United States should work alone to fight terrorism rather than work with other countries, respondents estimated that almost 50 percent of Americans endorsed this view. Moreover, misperceptions of public opinion were related to subsequent judgments of specific policies. For example, respondents who incorrectly perceived the unilateral view as the majority view were 1.84 times more likely to support a presidential decision to invade Iraq without the approval of the United Nations (UN) Security Council than respondents who correctly perceived the unilateral view as the minority view. Misperceptions of public opinion were also associated with the belief that the current foreign policy reflects the opinions of the American people. This belief in the legitimacy of the foreign policy was as strong a predictor of support for specific unilateral policies as respondents' attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-348
Number of pages26
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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