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Tracing foreign policy decisions : A study of citizens' use of heuristics

Johns, R.A. (2009) Tracing foreign policy decisions : A study of citizens' use of heuristics. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 11 (4). pp. 574-592. ISSN 1369-1481

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Abstract

Public opinion researchers agree that citizens use simplifying heuristics to reach real, stable preferences. In domestic policy, the focus has been on citizens delegating judgement to opinion leaders, notably political parties. By contrast, citizens have been held to deduce foreign policy opinions from their own values or principles. Yet there is ample scope for delegation in the foreign policy sphere. In this exploratory study I use a 'process-tracing' method to test directly for delegation heuristic processing in university students' judgements on the Iranian nuclear issue. A substantial minority sought guidance on foreign policy decisions, either from parties, international actors or newspapers. This was not always simple delegation; some used such heuristics within more complex decision-making processes. However, others relied on simple delegation, raising questions about the 'effectiveness' of their processing.