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A Paradox of Public Opinion: Why a Less Interested Public is More Attentive to War


This study argues that even as the American people declares themselves, in countless public opinion surveys, less concerned with foreign affairs in the Post-Cold War era than at any time since the end of World War II, they are nonetheless growing increasingly attentive to foreign policy crises. I develop a theory suggesting that this trend is attributable to a “direct marketing” revolution in television broadcasting, which has for many Americans increased the appeal of information about foreign crises. As evidence, I conduct two statistical investigations. The first examines the relationship between individual media consumption habits and attentiveness to three recent high-profile foreign policy crisis issues. The second compares public opinion trends during the three major post-World War II American uses of military force -- Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, to determine whether the relationships identified at the individual level can account for aggregate trends in public attentiveness. I find that the public has indeed grown increasingly attentive to foreign crises over the past half century, and that this increase is attributable, at least in part, to changes in the mass media, particularly television.

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