PM’s latest post, “Nobody cares about foreign policy” (note to self: we need a style manual to resolve whether, for example, post titles should be capitalized), was prompted by a proseminar we both attended on Monday.
Among other things, Saunders argues that theories of “democratic international relations” — particularly those surrounding audience costs — need to incorporate a central insight from the last fifty years of American politics research: that most voters are “low information”* when it comes to many things political–and especially international affairs.** It follows, therefore, that elites who provide “cues” to the voting public in general, partisans, ethnic groups, etc. often operate as key intermediaries in the relationship between foreign policy and electoral pressures.
You should definitely read the paper, but that isn’t the point of this post.
Saunders spent a lot of time walking us through arguments about low-information voters, partisan cueing, and various aspects of contemporary theories of political behavior. During the Q&A period, I asked her, basically, “why are you spending all this time telling us things we already know when you could be using that to further elaborate the implications for international-relations theory?” She responded that, in essence, when she presents the paper, “about half the time” she gets “that reaction”; “the other half of the time people are surprised.”
My reaction to this was, more or less, how could anyone working in political science in 2013 not know this stuff? I don’t mean know it well – I certainly don’t know a lot of the relevant literature or the intricacies of key debates — but rather: know the basic contours at all. And after the last few Presidential campaigns? I suspect most readers of this post will have the same reaction.
But then it occurred to me that maybe this is “old news” to me because I spend
too much a fair amount of time in the ‘greater political blogsphere’ (i.e., the milieu of academic, politics, policy, and partisan blogs… as well as the social-media networks they intersect with). One of the virtues of doing so, as I’ve suggested before, is it forces you to read outside of your silo — whether that silo is your research arena, your methodological community, your subfield, or even your discipline.
Social media: amongst our chief weapons against the total fractionalization of political science?