James M. Lindsay, senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, discusses the impact of public opinion and the media on U.S. foreign policy for “Global Climate Change Policy” and other CFR Model Diplomacy (https://modeldiplomacy.cfr.org) case studies. He explains that the American public overall seldom directly guides foreign policy, though it can affect policy indirectly. By contrast, subgroups of the public, such as special interest groups, can have a significant influence. Lindsay also notes that the media have less impact on foreign policy than commonly thought.
Lindsay explains that the public rarely follows foreign policy carefully and that it often lacks detailed policy preferences. In addition, public opinion can shift dramatically and have conflicting impulses, such as when Americans want to take on a terrorist group overseas but do not want to send American combat troops. All of this, Lindsay suggests, poses a significant challenge to policymakers.
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