Dr. Karen K. Petersen (Ph.D., 2004, Vanderbilt University) is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University. Dr. Petersen researches the causes of international conflict and has published research in International Interactions, Conflict Management and Peace Science, and Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy. Her latest book, Prospects for Political Stability in a Democratic Iraq (with Stephen Saunders) was recently published by Edwin Mellen Press. Dr. Petersen can be reached for comment at: email@example.com.
Foreign policy, North America, Security studies, Sociocultural dynamics in security, Strategic communications, Terrorism / counterterrorism
Lamenting the lack of public awareness of international events and U.S. foreign policy is not a particularly novel exercise; yet, explaining the process by which issues enter and exit the public realm remains a challenging endeavor. Despite contributions from researchers working in international relations and mass communication, explaining public inattentiveness continues to vex scholars. However, in his article, “Up and Down with Ecology: The ‘Issue-Attention Cycle,'” Anthony Downs provides a parsimonious and tractable model of public opinion that can be applied to foreign policy issues.1 While Downs concerns himself exclusively with domestic issues, particularly environmental issues, his model has thepotential to contribute to our understanding of the relationship between the public and policymakers over critical issues such as international terrorism. With minor modifications, the model has the potential to explain public support for failed foreign policies as well. Downs’ model, when applied to international terrorism, explains why policymakers seek simple solutions, why the public supports such solutions, and why the media fail to provide meaningful coverage of intractable issues such as international terrorism. Before discussing Downs’ model, the basic tenets and shortcomings of some of the more prevalent theories of the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy are discussed below.
Petersen, Karen K.. “Revisiting Downs’ Issue-Attention Cycle: International Terrorism and U.S. Public Opinion.” Journal of Strategic Security 2, no. 4 (2009): 1-16.