Can Neoliberalism Persist? Should it?


By Maggie Manson
August 25, 2021

With the defeat of President Donald Trump in the recent U.S. presidential election and the apparent end of “Trumpism,” a political era and ideology defined by an exclusive conception of nationalism, populism, and conspiracy; one might expect things to return to business as usual under the presidency of Joe Biden. Business as usual refers to the political phenomenon that has shaped U.S. domestic and foreign policy, as well as the greater global economy since the 1970s: neoliberalism. 

“The election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism.”

Neoliberalism as an economic concept can be characterized by free-market capitalism, privatization, deregulation, and societal freedom from government intervention. However, American neoliberalism has reached beyond the scope of laissez-faire economic philosophy, as it has been expanded to a paradigmatic lens for academics and policymakers to view international relations. Neoliberalism has thus contributed significantly to the consolidation of a formalized global economic market, as well as U.S. foreign policymaking in the past 50 years. While many see globalization and the dominance of neoliberal ideology as a resounding triumph for not only the U.S. but also for the greater global community, the election of President Trump in 2016 is a key demonstration of the failings of neoliberalism. 

Neoliberalism and the Presidency

The political bases of President Trump and conversely, Senator Bernie Sanders, represent anti-establishment views and appeal to their supporters using rhetoric that rejects the U.S. neoliberal status quo from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Some might argue that Trump’s election and subsequent political ideology are a rebuke of neoliberalism and the current global order, however, a more realistic assessment would be that Trump’s presidency is merely a symptom of neoliberalism. Despite his untraditional rejection of multilateralism, Trump himself is an unabashed neoliberal. While his campaign rhetoric of “America first” and his loyal base, many of whom have been left behind in the era of globalization, represent a reproach of neoliberalism, the policy actions of his administration prove otherwise. Outside of his approach to trade, Trump continually pushed for capitalist, free-market policies on a domestic and international scale, as well as engaged in a spend-heavy, neoliberalist approach to the U.S. military budget throughout the duration of his presidency. 

Consequences of Neoliberalism

Examining the key international consequences/ trends that have emerged as a result of neoliberalism is a good foundation to understanding the pushback against it. This is not an exhaustive list and it is often difficult to distinguish events as the result of neoliberalism or other global phenomena that can be examined through a neoliberalist lens. Additionally, it is equally difficult to look at these results in the context of U.S. foreign policy as this analysis often obscures what is a deliberate policy choice and what is merely an accidental, yet consequential result of neoliberalism. Despite these limitations, my interpretation of the most consequential outcomes of the neoliberal era of U.S. foreign policy is as follows. 

Neoliberalism arguably emerged as the leading U.S. foreign policy paradigm due to a key tenet of neoliberalism: globalization. The connections made through the increased financialization of the global economy, as well as the establishment of a neoliberal world order, laid the groundwork for widespread U.S. intervention following a neoliberal philosophy. 

Following the collapse of the Bretton Woods System, a new political-economic world order emerged that called for the deregulation of global markets through capital control abolition and competitive deregulation. This seismic shift away from embedded liberalism and government intervention in the international monetary system led to unprecedented economic growth by not only more developed countries like the U.S. and U.K. but also by emerging markets such as Japan and China. This hands-off approach resulted in stunning economic growth for many, but ultimately, also increased inequality for others, primarily in the developing world. 

Other significant consequences such as the increased role of private funding in international development, as well as the rise of the contractor state, have emerged as problematic policies from neoliberalism. Through funding mechanisms, the private sector has been able to exert significant influence in the development space, which presents some ethical concerns surrounding these projects. Similar to the issues presented by the privatization of development, the outsourcing of government responsibilities to the private sector has led to the creation of the military-industrial complex. This environment has resulted in a cycle that commodifies military action and violence in which an overseas deployment, that could’ve been prevented through diplomatic action, results in someone receiving a large check. 

The shared theme between these consequences of neoliberalism is the idea that human-focused policy (i.e. military and development) is driven primarily by economic incentives. Why is any of this actually bad for the United States or the world? Well, when human-centric policy is driven by cost-benefit analysis rather than a qualitative assessment of how it will impact lives, people are thus commodified and valued primarily by what they consume or produce. This is especially dangerous in policymaking as it dehumanizes issues that should focus on helping others/ preventing harm, but are now essentially economic issues due to neoliberal thinking.

Another major issue posed by neoliberalism is the global platform/ influence that has been given to anti-democratic countries with spotty human rights records. Neoliberalism, for the most part, has maintained U.S. hegemony on the global stage but has also meant the beginning of the end of U.S. unilateralism. When the U.S. decided to de-commit from the gold standard, thus throwing off the international monetary order consisting of currencies pegged to the USD, it guaranteed that it would no longer be the center of the global monetary system in the future. While the U.S. has, for the most part, retained its hegemonic position throughout the period of neoliberalism, we are now seeing the rise of a multipolar system where rising powers such as China, also exert significant influence over the global monetary relations and even global political attitudes. If China continues on its projected path of economic growth, neoliberalism might contribute to another dramatic realignment of the global order, potentially one with a non-democratic country at the helm. The rise of China as the new economic center of the neoliberal world order would afford the ruling Chinese Communist Party the platform to potentially convey anti-democratic values on a global scale.  

What the Scholars Think

Two TRIP Snap Polls demonstrate scholarly support for neoliberal governance, based on their preferences for certain presidential policies. In Snap Poll 14 (October 2020), scholars were asked “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between Trump and Biden in the following areas?” with categories spanning from international trade to human rights. Results show an estimated 89.3% difference in Biden’s engagement with multilateral organizations, 83.4% difference in management of military alliances, and 66% difference in trade relations. 


High engagement and cooperation with international, multilateral organizations such as the World Trade Organization or the United Nations is a key facet of neoliberalism. Additionally, regional military collaboration, specifically with the North American Treaty Organization, works to uphold U.S. hegemonic military power as a key element of neoliberalism.  In Snap Poll 15, 93.65% of scholars grading Biden’s performance in alliances and international organizations policy between A and B+ with a mean score of 3.56 (falling between an A- and B+). From these findings, is clear that Biden’s multilateral and thus neoliberal approach ranks better with scholars than Trump’s America-first strategy. Based on scholarly approval of these neoliberal approaches, we can infer that scholars are still in favor of neoliberalism’s influence over U.S. foreign policy, especially related to military and international organization engagement.


Additionally, scholars’ predictions of a 66% difference in trade relations signal that scholars assumed Biden would take a less protectionist and more neoliberal approach to trade, in contrast to Trump’s “trade war” and high tariffs. In regards to scholar’s views on how Biden has actually performed after his first 100 days (found in Snap Poll 15), we see that 67.25% of scholars at least somewhat approve of Biden’s handling of international trade (15.67% strongly approve, 51.49% somewhat approve). These results indicate that so far, scholars approve of Biden’s neoliberal approach to international trade, and are not opposed to neoliberalism in the Biden presidency.

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In Snap Poll 14, we see that scholars tend to disapprove of Trump (compared to Biden) with 93% of scholars stating that their foreign policy views align more closely with Biden and only 4% of scholars stating that they would vote for Trump. However, the disapproval of Trump does not necessarily signal that Trump and Biden are opposites when it comes to neoliberal governance. Snap Poll 14 also shows mixed responses to the question of: “to what extent would U.S. foreign policy differ between the two in the following areas?” For economic areas such as trade and exchange rates, as well as the use of military force, there is no majority of scholars expecting significant change in Trump vs. Biden’s policies. The assumption that Trump and Biden’s approach to economic governance and military action might be similar, as well as the actions of the previous administration, show Trump’s tendencies to follow the neoliberal approach in some issue areas. 

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Here to Stay (for now)

An important question we must ask ourselves now that we have seen the ideological shortcomings of neoliberalism through some of its key consequences, should a new global paradigm replace neoliberalism? With increased pressure from the working class right and anti-capitalist leftists, is it time for the U.S. and other global adherents to rethink the ideological basis by which they govern and approach global relations? Or, despite the outlined consequences, perhaps scholars’ support for Biden’s neoliberal policies indicates that scholarly opinion is more influential than public pushback in terms of crafting foreign policy, signaling the continuance of neoliberalism. 

My analysis of these snap poll findings even in the context of neoliberalism’s problems is that they signal the continuance of neoliberalism with minimal scholarly or mainstream disapproval. However, this does not mean that future U.S. leaders will be able to sustain the neoliberal world order forever. With the potential of a bipolar world order due to the rise of China combined with popular disillusionment of the status quo post-Trump presidency, I believe that a seismic change is eventually inevitable. Arguments against development privatization, the contractor state, and the financialization of the global economy may not be widespread, but leftist political figures such as Bernie Sanders or Ayanna Pressley are beginning to call more attention to the issues with these policies and the downfalls of neoliberalism. On top of that, U.S. voters have already expressed their discontent with globalization in the 2016 election, either by voting for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary or for Trump in the general election. As noteworthy academic Professor John J. Mearsheimer once proclaimed liberal hegemony is a bankrupt strategy,” and it will be interesting to see if an entirely new ideology will eventually emerge in neoliberalism’s place. 


How Can the U.S. Turn the Global Tide That’s Moving Away From Democracy?

By Angelina Paul
July 16, 2021

International political systems have been evolving over the last five years, intensified by the immense amount of change brought about forcefully by the pandemic over the past year and a half. The debate over whether democracy or authoritarianism is the most advantageous in dealing with new and unprecedented issues has re-emerged in light of the pandemic. Each day, the world is moving further and further away from democracy, and authoritarianism is dominating.

In a recent episode of NPR’s “Consider This,” Ari Shapiro discusses how threats to democracy are growing around the world. China has aggressively heightened its restrictions on free speech by punishing protestors in Hong Kong. Vladamir Putin has tightened state control over the internet in Russia where regulations now resemble the limitations on independent media during the USSR. Jair Bolsonaro was elected in Brazil, a President who has claimed that freedom in Brazil is in the hands of the military and has threatened to use the military as a weapon if he is not reelected (NPR, Morning Edition).

This year, Freedom House found that almost 75% of people in the world live in countries that became less democratic in the past year. They also found that the U.S. is among those countries, with another report concluding that the U.S. has dropped below their “democracy threshold,” (+6) to anocracy (+5) as of December 2020. The shift away from democracy in the U.S. can be attributed to a dysfunctional criminal justice system, growing wealth disparity, and the perception of an unfair electoral process on both sides of the aisle, for opposite reasons. 

The U.S., a beacon of democracy, is falling short. As a nation whose laws and processes are based on fundamentally democratic values, the constant internal criticism of our electoral process and the legal consequences of these critiques is causing a shift away from democracy. As one of the most influential countries in the world, other nations are criticizing the U.S. for having a negative impact on global democracy, due to our poor performance upholding democratic values domestically.   

Are Autocratic Characteristics Spreading in the U.S.? 

The struggle for democracy in the U.S. is a major cause of the increasingly negative  perception of the U.S.’s impact on global democracy. In 2020, 36% of Americans said that there was not enough democracy in the U.S., and this number increased to 45% in 2021 (DPI Report). The reliability of a country’s election system is a key indicator determining its level of democracy. In the US, the public’s perception of the fairness in elections is very low. Lack of confidence in the political system stems from both sides of the political system. On one hand, there is former President Trump spreading messages that the elections were rigged due to voter fraud, backed by many GOP members in Congress. On the other hand, many Americans also believe U.S. elections are unfair due to disenfranchisement of Americans they believe should be eligible to vote. The number of disenfranchised Americans is only growing as policymakers take on voter fraud as their main priority.

Trump’s influence has emboldened lawmakers to form new legislation that tackles election fraud. Although Trump administration election officials confirmed that the 2020 election was the most secure election to date, as of March, 361 bills with new voting limitations in 47 states had been introduced. In Georgia, Texas, and Pennsylvania, state legislatures have proposed laws to restrict mail-in voting, nationwide voter ID laws, and cracking down on late ballots. The goal of these bills is to create more secure elections. The benefit here is that the rare occurrence of voter fraud, of which there have been 31 instances since 2000 in over 1 billion casted ballots, could be eliminated. The cost is that many Americans, especially disproportionately lower income groups and minority voters, would not be able to vote, reversing our country’s trend to include more Americans in the democratic process (ACLU). 

Furthermore, the cost to implement these initiatives outweigh their stated benefits. States must use taxpayer dollars to fund the costs of implementing voter ID laws, which include educating the public, training poll workers, and providing IDs to voters. For example, Texas spent almost two million dollars on voter education after its Voter ID law was passed, and Indiana spent over ten million dollars to produce free ID cards between 2007 and 2010 (ACLU). These policies threaten fundamental democratic rights, such as the right to vote and the right to free and fair elections in the United States. 

The movement towards widespread disenfranchisement is also structural. Gerrymandering laws, or the process of drawing unfair congressional districts for partisan benefit, are predicted to skew election results for the next decade in states such as Texas, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Iowa, and North Carolina (Brennan Center). Even with public sentiment favoring Democrats, the process of gerrymandering through reapportionment and redistricting of House seats is enough to cause a change in control of the House even if public opinion did not change at all. 

Gerrymandering is an overwhelmingly unfair and unpopular practice among Democrats and Republicans. It dilutes the influence of the other party, creating “safe districts” where the overwhelming majority is either Democrat or Republican. In 2016, only 17 races out of 435 had a margin of less than 5%, displaying the detrimental effect of gerrymandering on political competition. Essentially,  it has extinguished genuine political competition, disincentivizing leaders to collaborate across party lines. When a Congressional Representative is elected to represent a district that is 80% Democratic or Republican, there is no incentive to compromise with the other party, and gridlock is inevitable. Furthermore, there is little incentive to vote if you are affiliated with the minority party in an uncompetitive district, disempowering and distorting citizens’ votes. Democracy is about fair representation, healthy competition, and bipartisan collaboration. Practicing Gerrymandering has ruined the integrity of a fair and equal democracy in the US. 

Is the U.S.’s Reputation Affected By Its Perception as a Threat to Democracy?

According to global perception, the U.S. has a significant impact on the international shift away from democracy. This past year, the Democracy Perception Index found that 44% of people around the world identified the influence of the United States as a threat to democracy, which ranked higher than the influence of Russia, China, or any other specific country. Overall, respondents from 53 countries agreed that the fifth largest threat to democracy worldwide is America’s influence. The United States’ closest allies, such as Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, see the U.S. as having more of a negative impact on democracy. 

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Figure from DPI report

The data amplifies the concern of many countries that the U.S. has a net negative impact on democracy worldwide. According to V-Dem, in 2021, 68% of the global population now lives in autocracies, and we are now in the “third wave of autocratization,” meaning that the third global shift towards the decline of democratic regime attributes is currently taking place. Now, autocratizing nations include 25 countries or 34% of the world’s population. In a 2019 TRIP survey, IR scholars were asked for their predictions for the future, and 57% of the respondents expected there to be fewer democracies in the next five years.


Figure from Future of the International Order Survey

Since the Cold War, the United States has always served as a role model for democracy. Our struggles to maintain the key aspects of democracy within our own country has had a snowball effect on the rest of the world. Not only does the U.S.’s domestic strife affect worldwide democratization, but it may be impacting our standing and respect with other countries on the global political stage. 

The American public agrees that it is important to have good standing abroad, with 87% of U.S. adults surveyed agreed that respect for the U.S. abroad is vital and 95% of international relations scholars also answering that it is important that the U.S. is respected. There is even bipartisan agreement that the U.S. needs to be respected abroad, with only an 8% gap between Democrat and Republican respondents, and the findings indicated that regardless of partisan affiliation, respondents agree that the U.S. is less respected abroad than it was in the past. 

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Figure from Pew Research Center

However, TRIP data shows IR scholars who identify as Republican are 14% less likely than Democrat-affiliated scholars to say America’s standing on the international stage is on the rise. Instead, they believe that the U.S.’s reputation has not changed in the post-Trump era. This is not a new trend. Pew Research notes that partisan-affiliates are more likely to believe the U.S. standing abroad is improving under an administration where the president is from their party.

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Figure data from TRIP Snap Poll 14

DPI reported that in 2021, there was a positive turn in favor of the U.S.’s influence on democracy. Many respondents who had previously seen the U.S. as a massive threat to democracy had changed their opinions. A 20% increase of German respondents’ answered that the U.S. has a net positive effect. This positive turn on the data in 2021 “of the US’s global influence on democracy has increased significantly around the world since the Spring of 2020, from a net opinion of +6 to a net opinion of +14,” (DPI Report). The report asserts that this positive increase in 2021 can be attributed to the election of President Biden. 

Is the Biden Administration Enough to Reverse the Anti-Democratic Wave?

Many IR scholars attribute the increase to the “Biden effect.” Since the 2020 election, the U.S. has had a positive influence on democracy worldwide, as many countries such as Germany and China see President Biden as a bigger champion of democracy than former President Trump. The perception of the U.S. as a positive influence on democracy is tied to our standing abroad, especially with our allies. A 2020 TRIP snap poll found that IR scholars strongly agree, with over 92% responding that foreign governments would be more willing to cooperate with the United States under a Biden administration than under a Trump administration.

Although experts agree that America’s global reputation is on the upswing after the 2020 election, the aftermath of the pandemic is still unfolding in many countries, and in others the pandemic is still in full swing. V-Dem predicts that the pandemic will have direct effects on global levels of liberal democracy in the long-term, with the consequences for worldwide democracy extending into the next decade. 

The question now is whether the “Biden effect” alone is strong enough to increase democracy worldwide. It’s still uncertain how much Biden can do to shift the world away from autocracy, and the Biden administration is receiving not much pressure from the American public to prioritize promoting democracy abroad. Pew Research reported that only 20 percent of American adults cited “promoting democracies abroad” in other nations as a top foreign policy goal, ranking last in a group of 20 foreign policy issues. 

President Biden has acknowledged the decreasing confidence in democracy worldwide. He expressed at the Munich Security Conference that because the U.S. is extremely influential abroad, we need to be a role model for other countries. Thus, the Biden administration must fix the aspects of democracy under attack in our own nation, such as addressing the increasing disenfranchisement of Americans and political extremism. In order to persuade other countries that democracy works, we must set a good example by first fixing our domestic problems, demonstrating to other nations that democracy is the best way forward. 


Foreign Interference in Elections: What Can Be Done?

By Morgan Doll

December 18, 2020

Foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. Presidential election was on many people’s minds after what happened in 2016. Just weeks before the election, news surfaced that Iranian operatives were threatening votes in Alaska and Florida that “they’d better vote for President Trump or else.” A few days later, a Russian hacking group was alleged of conducting cyberattacks on U.S. government infrastructure where they broke into at least two counties’ government servers accessing voter data. Reports show that efforts by foreign adversaries are unlikely to have affected the actual count of votes, but they were able to create doubt about the conduct of the election and spread false information to influence voters.

Foreign interference in U.S. elections is nothing new to our history. France historically sought to influence American presidential elections by appealing to the American people against the Federalists during the 1700s. In 1940, Great Britain wanted the United States to join the war to help boost their odds of winning. Since FDR was more supportive of the war effort than his opponent, British agents spread propaganda about FDR’s opponent to ensure a pro-war win. Interference is not just an issue in the United States; it is prevalent throughout the Western world, and globalization plays a huge role. As our world becomes more interconnected, foreign actors have more of an incentive to have the right candidate for them in office. For example, if one candidate supports trade policies that would favor certain countries, then those countries would have an incentive to elect the candidate that would help them economically. But the United States is no victim either. The U.S. government is notorious for interfering in Latin American elections to prevent left-leaning governments from coming to power.

Given the international-domestic nexus of foreign interference, how should the United States best protect their elections and ensure that the American public is confident in the current election system?

Where to start to protect our elections

The act of election interference defies the main principle of international law that countries must “respect the political independence and socio-economic and cultural integrity of every state.” NATO has clear rules on election interference stating that “cyberattacks and election interference will be regarded as a violation of the Article 5 mutual defense provision,” which encourages NATO allies to respond collectively against an attack on one of their members. Additionally, because cybersecurity is a crucial aspect of election interference and international security today, many see the issue primarily as an international one that needs to be met with an international response. 

"President Trump Attends the NATO Plenary Session" by The White House is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit
“President Trump Attends the NATO Plenary Session” by The White House is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit

Countries often respond to the threat of election interference through international measures such as economic sanctions, but many countries have also responded domestically by creating agencies within the country to combat foreign election interference and outlawing campaign donations from foreigners. In response to the spike of Russian active measures in the 2016 election, President Trump signed an executive order in 2018 that would place sanctions on any foreign entities proven to interfere in U.S. elections.  Other countries such as Australia, France, Japan, and Canada decided to limit or prevent foreign donations to specific parties and candidates. Sweden created a government agency to increase awareness surrounding threats of misinformation, and made a manual for the public to combat influential activities by foreign powers. The United States, similarly, has worked to toughen America’s election infrastructure, and the FBI along with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency have kept up a drumbeat of regular bulletins about what they call the latest intelligence about prospective election cyberthreats. It seems as though these measures have been somewhat effective, considering how quickly the intelligence community was able to catch the interference by Iran and Russia before the election.

What do IR scholars think?

In Snap Poll XIV, we polled I.R. scholars to see how a handful of U.S. policies would affect the probability of interference by foreign governments in future U.S. elections. 79% of scholars said that enhanced cybersecurity measures for election infrastructure and enhanced counterintelligence efforts would decrease the probability of interference. 70% of scholars said that enhanced election finance laws would decrease the probability of interference. 67% of scholars said that deterrent threats of diplomatic isolation would have no effect, while 47% of scholars believe that deterrent threats of retaliatory economic sanctions would have no effect. The least effective measure chosen by scholars was deterrent threats of retaliatory military force, as 61% said there would be no effect and 14% said this would increase the probability of interference.

From these findings, we can see that scholars believe domestic leaning, defensive policies, like election finance laws, infrastructure, and counterintelligence efforts would be more effective than international leaning, retaliatory policies, like threatening cyberattacks, military force, and economic sanctions. Thus, while foreign election interference may seem like a primarily international issue, a combination of domestic policies and international cooperation might best combat this issue in future elections.

An anonymous essayist in the late 18th century who signed his name as “National Pride” wrote, “if the choice of a President of the United States is to depend on any Act of a foreign nation, farewell to your liberties and independence.” Foreign interference in elections will only become a bigger issue as globalization increases and technology advances, so countries should begin building their defenses now, and world powers like the United States should be punished for interfering in smaller countries. 

 "Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day - November 6th" by Barack Obama is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

“Barack Obama and Joe Biden on Election Day – November 6th” by Barack Obama is licensed with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit
Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making. Skills: Foreign Language (Spanish)

It Matters What Scholars Think (and Why They Think It)

By Aidan Donovan

November 17, 2020

Washington Post and Foreign Policy have published findings from TRIP surveys about presidential elections, impeachment, and American foreign policy strategy. Consensus support for a particular position among international relations (IR) scholars might be a strong rationale for policy action. We know that policymakers demand and utilize academic work under certain conditions. On the supply side, there is a push within the academy to increase the rewards for producing policy-relevant research. It matters what scholars think about international issues. The challenge is that the reasoning behind consensus positions within the academy is often masked by political differences and the format of traditional survey research.

Scholarly research is useful to policymakers when the underlying logic is coherent and when policy prescriptions are clear. Policy relevance is stronger when many scholars have similar scholarly suggestions. In areas where there is a consensus among scholars, we should attempt to understand the underlying reason(s) for scholarly agreement. Understanding the logic of their positions, and whether this is consistent among scholars, is just as important as the conclusion.


For example, 83 percent of scholars opposed President Trump’s decision to leave the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with Russia. Some scholars likely believe that the treaty is an effective security tool, while others may view the treaty as ineffective (given alleged non-compliance) but view the departure as an unnecessary provocation.  Scholars’ consensus opposition is clear, but the survey does not provide information on how each of the scholars reached this conclusion. Policymakers can also learn from scholars on topics where there is not a consensus, such as the effectiveness of economic sanctions. It would be worthwhile to know if scholars consider the same or different factors in evaluating the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

It is hard to learn from IR scholars without understanding why they think the way they do.

Learning from scholars can be challenging because scholars are overwhelmingly liberal, compared to a more divided electorate and policy community. In our 2017 Snap Poll, only 11 percent of scholars identified as conservative on economic or social issues. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of international relations scholars self-identify as both economically and socially liberal. Survey questions and interpretations should reflect the complex relationship between ideology and expertise.

Scholarly credibility to speak on important issues needs to be accompanied by a coherent rationale for their consensus. On many issues, it is hard to know if the IR consensus is rooted in expert evaluation or political preferences. We asked scholars in 2017 whether President Trump’s unpredictable behavior has been an effective negotiation tactic, as he suggested in the campaign. Just 8 percent of liberal scholars say this has been effective, yet 45 percent of conservative scholars say it has been an effective negotiation tactic. There is both some theoretical support for projecting unpredictability or irrationality and a lot of skepticism from prominent scholars such as Stephen Walt. However, we are unable to determine whether theory and evidence, or politics, explains conservative scholars’ more favorable perspective on President Trump’s international negotiations.

“As a bargaining technique, the madman theory has a certain logical coherence to it … but the key lesson is that there is little or no evidence that the madman theory of diplomacy actually works” — Stephen Walt

The effect of politics on scholarly attitudes is exemplified by questions on the U.S. foreign aid budget. We asked in Snap Poll X (2017) whether the U.S. is spending too little, too much, or the right amount on foreign aid. The question did not mention any politicians by name, so respondents are more likely to report their genuine views on U.S. foreign aid. IR scholars overwhelmingly support greater spending on Aid. Overall, 82 percent of scholars thought the U.S. was spending too little and just 4 percent thought the U.S. was spending too much. Just 2 percent of liberal scholars and 16 percent of conservative scholars thought the U.S. should spend less on foreign aid. IR scholars supported increasing aid and opposed reducing aid regardless of political ideology. 

Do you think the U.S. is now spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on foreign aid? (October/November 2017)

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When we ask scholars to evaluate Trump’s performance specifically, just 3 percent of IR scholars report that he has done as well or better than Obama on “development and foreign aid” even though the U.S. aid budget as a whole has been consistent across administrations. The president’s rhetoric on aid and development may be somewhat significant in aid effectiveness, but the single biggest difference is that we are now asking about Trump (an especially unpopular figure among scholars) specifically. The average aid budget during Obama’s second term was $49.5 billion. The average aid budget from Trump’s first two years in office was just three percent lower at $48 billion. Aggregate aid has essentially been steady despite President Trump’s isolationist rhetoric. We asked in September 2020 whether Trump has done as well as or better than Obama on a list of issues, including “development and foreign aid.” Just three percent of scholars reported that Trump has even been equally as strong as Obama on this issue. Not a single self-reported Democrat answered affirmatively, and just 6 percent of Independents and 16 percent of Republicans did as well. A partisan-proof result is expected since Republican scholars are nearly evenly split between supporting Biden and Trump in the upcoming general election. The most likely explanation for these diverging results is that scholars considered their negative opinion of President Trump in evaluating his performance on foreign aid. If we asked the general 2017 question on the US foreign aid budget, we would likely find that substantive attitudes on aid have not changed much in three years.

Can we encourage evidence-driven guidance from scholars? 

Providing value-neutral questions and response options can encourage more substantive, and less political responses. In Snap Poll XI (2018), we asked scholars if the powers of the U.S. president have increased under President Trump, compared to the three previous presidents. This is potentially value neutral because a strong executive is not necessarily good, bad, liberal, or conservative. Liberal scholars were just slightly more likely than conservative scholars to answer that the president’s powers had increased under President Trump. Among conservative scholars, 5 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 15 percent say it increased somewhat. Among liberal scholars, 7 percent say presidential power increased a lot and 26 percent say it increased somewhat. 

Have the powers of the U.S. president under President Trump increased a lot / somewhatremained the same, or decreased a lot / somewhat compared to the previous three administrations?


The poll also asked scholars if they thought President Trump overstepped the foreign policy powers of the Office of the President. While liberal scholars were only slightly more likely than conservative scholars to say that President Trump increased the power of the president, liberal scholars were overwhelmingly more likely to say that he overstepped his foreign policy powers. Just 13 percent of conservative scholars said President Trump overstepped his foreign policy powers, compared to 47 percent of liberal scholars. Scholars seem to be capable of putting aside their political values at times, but the question asked makes their political perspective more or less relevant to their responses. 

It may be reasonable to assume that substantive knowledge and experience does, on average, make scholars more liberal. However, liberal substantially outnumber conservatives in a variety of fields. At least 80 percent of academics in english, history, and psychology are liberal, suggesting that self-selection may explain IR scholars’ liberalism as much as their subject-matter expertise. Conservative scholars will therefore be in the minority among academics on most political topics. Scholars as a whole could benefit from investigating whether observed divides are substantive or political when conservative scholars are in clear disagreement with the rest of the IR academy.

TRIP surveys of scholars, journalists, and think-tankers strive to gather expert opinions rather than politically-driven responses. Therefore, our survey questions must be designed in a way that intentionally attacks the issue of ambiguity in survey interpretation. Questions must be carefully worded to cue political beliefs and reactions only when intended. In our most recent snap poll, we asked scholars the following question: “Regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas, how effectively you believe each candidate would be in achieving his respective foreign policy goals over the next four years.” The phrase “regardless of the substance of their foreign policy agendas” reminds respondents to take each candidate’s goals as a given, which should produce more substantive responses regarding the candidate’s foreign policy capabilities. 

Additionally, multiple-choice questions could be supplemented with open-ended questions requiring explanations allowing researchers to understand the underlying reasoning to their scholarly advice. Scholars are roughly split between thinking the threat of economic sanctions would decrease or have no effect on the probability of election interference from other countries. We know that scholars are also split on the effectiveness of sanctions overall. Asking for an explanation could elucidate if those the overall wariness toward sanctions, or something specific to election interference, is driving skepticism of the efficacy of using sanctions to discourage election interference. The University of Chicago Booth School of Business Economic Experts Panel is a useful guide. The survey provides on-the-record respondents the opportunity to explain their answers and identify their confidence level and the school tracks responses over time to allow for track-record evaluation. This methodology incentivizes substantive and thoughtful response and discourages and identifies unsound beliefs. 

Expert surveys are a useful way to synthesize the research and impact within peer-review academic literature and to highlight analysis that may be useful to policymakers and voters. The success of survey responses in fulfilling this role is directly related to the proportion of each response that is a product of subject matter expertise and experience (instead of personal beliefs and ideology). TRIP surveys recognize the importance of careful wording and interpretation and the majority of IR scholars undoubtedly seek to provide impartial responses. Nonetheless, the academy could benefit from surveys that provide stronger incentives for careful reflection and substantive response. Policymakers need to be careful in using the results of expert surveys as justification for action in cases where the underlying logic is not clear. If scholars come to similar conclusions based on different reasoning, policymakers need to understand the differences and how each might apply to the present (real-world) situation. Surveys like TRIP can encourage policy relevance in the academy by incentivizing substantive and sufficiently-detailed responses that are directly useful to policymakers and politically-active citizens. 

Aidan Donovan is a senior at the College of William and Mary, majoring in Economics and Government. He has worked as a Research Assistant for TRIP since February of 2019. His interests include law and economic policy, and he is particularly interested in understanding how scholars think and communicate with policymakers and the public.

“We Didn’t Start the Fire”… But We’re Not Putting It Out, Either: The COVID-19 Pandemic Seven Months On

by Mary Trimble

October 29, 2020


If you have whiplash from this week’s, this month’s, or even this year’s news cycle, you’re far from alone. The sheer volume of events, that in any other year would dominate cable news for weeks at a time, is enough to leave one’s head spinning and inspire a rather morbid verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (“Ayatollah’s in Iran, do we have a COVID plan?”). 

Here’s a quick recap of what has happened in 2020 so far: the assassination of an Iranian general and its fallout (remember that?), an impeachment (almost forgot to include that one), a hotly contested election, a pandemic (which created an economic recession), protests for racial justice, the passing of a legendary supreme court justice, a subsequent nomination fight, and the President of the United States being diagnosed with a potentially fatal respiratory disease (see “pandemic,” above) which, by the way, could have triggered a constitutional crisis. It seems like the only constant in this year— and the thing that has affected all of us, somehow (even scholars in the Ivory Tower)— has been the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Naturally, TRIP asked international relations (IR) scholars to try to untangle the Gordian Knot that is the state of 2020. In the fourteenth edition of TRIP’s Snap Polls of IR faculty, 706 IR scholars responded to questions about the upcoming election, foreign policy, and, of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Because covering all of their responses would probably require several thousand words and a few degrees that I don’t have yet, we’ll deal here only with scholars’ responses on the pandemic (the people with the degrees have covered the rest of it in this article in Foreign Policy). In Snap Poll XIII, in May 2020, scholars weighed in for the first time on COVID-19 and the US and international response (see the full results here, my take here, and RA Maggie Manson’s analysis of protests in the COVID-19 era using Snap Poll XIII data here). 

It goes without saying that much has changed in our understanding of COVID-19 and governments’ containment and mitigation policies since May. Europe and the United States have, for the most part, emerged from a “strict lockdown,” with limited success (and some are locking down once again in the face of a significant second wave). Scientists are scrambling to develop a vaccine, but with flu season approaching and COVID-19 cases rising to record-breaking levels around the world, it doesn’t seem like 2020 is going to end much better than how it started (and it started with the threat of WWIII). 

The last six months seem to have been enough to convince most scholars of the serious implications of a pandemic. While in 2017, the overwhelming majority of IR faculty did not believe that infectious diseases were currently a major concern or would become one in the next ten years, this time around, 75% of scholars believed that “the spread of infectious disease poses a major threat to the United States.” (For what it’s worth, this survey was in the field prior to news of the President’s COVID-19 diagnosis.) 

To that end, scholars also chimed in on how they felt governments and institutions had managed that threat. Whereas in May, 63% approved of the World Health Organization’s handling of the pandemic, in Snap Poll XIV, only 55% responded that the response had been at least “somewhat good,” with 32% saying their response had been “somewhat bad.” Perhaps this dip is simply a function of there still being a pandemic all these months later, or perhaps President Trump’s steady drumbeat of negative rhetoric on WHO, including withdrawing US funding from the organization, has penetrated the zeitgeist. 


Scholars had a resoundingly dismal review of the US response. Nearly 87% of respondents believed that the US had done a “very bad job dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” They were much more bullish, however, about the EU’s handling of the outbreak, with roughly 72% saying that the EU had done a “somewhat good” or “very good” job managing the virus. 


It’s clear that the Trump Administration has been dismissive of the virus, downplaying the health threats associated with the disease, discouraging public health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing (including and especially at the rallies and events the President has held throughout the pandemic across the country and at the White House), and opposing lockdowns and school closures. In contrast, EU officials have consistently acknowledged the threat of the virus, even when there wasn’t a clear, pan-European consensus about how to handle it.

However, it’s also true that the EU didn’t have immediate (nor consistent) success at handling the virus, by their own admission. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, scolded member states on March 26, 2020, for their failure to coordinate their responses. “And when Europe really needed to prove that this is not only a ‘fair weather Union’, too many initially refused to share their umbrella,” she said, referencing border closures throughout the Schengen Area and widespread stockpiling of medical supplies by national governments in the early days of the outbreak that disadvantaged other members, including Italy, which was the first European country to see a severe outbreak. Let’s not forget, too, the “corona bonds” crisis that once again pitted Northern and Southern European states against each other. 

Yet, in midsummer, when Europe seemed to be past the worst of the virus, the US was seeing its highest case numbers so far. It seemed clear that, at least by the numbers, the EU had gotten something right. Today, the picture is hazier. 

As of October 16th, the EU/European Economic Area (which includes the EU-27 and Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland) and the UK reported 198,886 deaths (that’s roughly 40 deaths per 100,000). On the same day, the US reported 217,987 deaths total as a result of the pandemic (around 68 deaths per 100,000). In the last week, both the US and the EU have seen significant spikes in the rolling average of new cases. On October 22, the EU and UK saw a 7-day rolling average of 125,571 new cases (25 new cases per 100,000, roughly four times higher than at the peak of the first wave in the spring), and the US reported a rolling average of 59,699 new cases (roughly 18 per 100,000) just under its existing high watermark.

Newsweek reported last week that certain countries in Europe, including Belgium and Spain, have surpassed the US in the number of deaths per one million people. (Moreover, on October 22nd it was announced that former Belgian PM and current Foreign Minister, Sophie Wilmès, was admitted to the ICU after testing positive for the virus.) These numbers suggest that, while perhaps the EU had things under control during the summer, that is no longer true. 

Let’s unpack this seeming contradiction in scholars’ opinions and the situation on the ground. First, this poll was in the field between Sept. 16 and 24. At this point, both Europe and the US were experiencing an uptick in cases, but it was much more significant in the United States. We’ve already established that things were looking better in Europe over the summer, while stateside it was nothing but bad news. US scholars are probably also over-exposed to US news, so perhaps no or little news from the EU was taken as de facto good news. So, scholars may have answered based on general and lingering impressions from the situation over the summer. If only to have a reason to use the word “zeitgeist” again, it’s worth reiterating that President Trump’s rhetoric, which has been so consistently at odds with science and public health recommendations, may have contributed to a panic that made anything look better by comparison, even to highly educated, extremely reasonable IR scholars.

IR scholars got it (mostly) wrong this time, it’s true. In fairness, public health science is not necessarily their area of expertise. More importantly, their miscalculation highlights all that we don’t know about this pandemic— the US and the EU took very different tacks in handling the virus and ended up in roughly the same situation. Here, however, is what we do know: masks work, social distancing works, hand washing works. Let’s do those things. 

The election is rapidly approaching, and scholars predict that a Biden administration would be vastly different to a second Trump administration in its policy on global public health, among other foreign policy concerns (they predict, too, that Biden would be more effective at achieving those goals). Perhaps that means more collaboration with the EU and others for the development of a vaccine, data sharing, or something else. Beyond that, though, it’s evident that we are far from free of this pandemic, here or across the pond. What’s worse: perhaps we need to evaluate and adjust our and scholars’ standards for what constitutes “success” and “failure” in the context of a pandemic before we have any hope of putting out this fire. 

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

MENA Integration: Legacies & Suggestions

by Maggie Manson

September 23rd, 2020

In the TRIP 2017 Faculty Survey, scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon were asked “What are the three most important foreign policy problems facing [Respondent Country] today?” A significant issue that was present in each country’s top three response options was the issue of regional disintegration, with 100% of scholars noting this issue in Egypt, 60% in Jordan, and 25% in Lebanon. Regional disintegration refers to a lack of cohesion or shared identity between states in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Regional integration has been very important in the ancient and modern political history of the MENA, and the region’s current lack thereof is clearly an issue of great importance to scholars in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon.  To understand the extent and importance of this disintegration, I’ll analyze past attempts at regional cohesion throughout  MENA, possible reasons for current disintegration, and offer my thoughts on what a potential regional conglomerate could look like in the future. 

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Egypt 2017 Faculty Survey Responses
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Lebanon 2017 Faculty Survey Responses
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Jordan 2017 Faculty Survey Responses

Historic integration of the region stems from the first Islamic state: the Rashidun Caliphate, which ruled the region from 632, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, to 661 CE. The three other most prominent Caliphates include the Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman Caliphates, with the Ottoman being the last, collapsing in 1923 under the pressure of Western interference post-world war one. The roots of modern regional integration in the MENA begin in 1928 with the founding of the Islamist group: the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Egyptian teacher Hassan al-Banna. The organization rejected western influence and imperialism, seeking the rise of a free Islamic state as the solution to regional instability. However, with the rise of the Free Officers Movement in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was coopted by the movement as they provided support for the 1952 coup d’etat but then were forcibly secularized once Free Officer Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power. Nasser’s political movement of Pan-Arabism, which integrated concepts of Arab nationalism and socialism, advocated for unity between Arab states against western influences. While the movement originated from the Syrian Ba’ath Party, it was popularized by Nasser who made Pan-Arabism policy in Egypt and helped to spread the movement throughout the region through diplomatic partnerships and alliances with other MENA countries. With the fall of Nasser in 1970, the subsequent end of Pan Arabism, and extensive foreign intervention in the region, a fractured MENA has emerged and scholars in three of these countries clearly see this as a significant foreign policy issue.

Previous bodies that have strived to create unity between Arab or MENA states include but are not limited to the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Maghreb Arab Union,  the Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, and the Agadir Agreement. The Arab League¹ was founded in 1945 with the primary goal to strengthen relationships and coordinate policies between the MENA countries. The goals of this body have not been achieved due to two major roadblocks; arguments over leadership, and conflicts between member countries due to the large scale of the group. The Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC)², a smaller more homogenous group,  was founded in 1981 as a political and economic alliance between Gulf states. The GCC can be seen as one of the most successful regional bodies in the MENA, due in part to the close geographic proximity, similar governments, and similar socioeconomic situations of member states. The Maghreb Arab Union³, founded in 1989, sought to achieve policy coordination, a shared identity, and free movement of people, goods, and services between member states. It was ultimately ineffective in achieving these goals due to Morocco-Algeria tensions, Libya-Mauritania tensions,  and the continuing issue of Western Sahara sovereignty. The Pan-Arab Free Trade Agreement, founded in 1997, aimed to decrease barriers to trade between countries to improve their economies, but despite increasing inter-regional trade, it ultimately had little impact on each of the countries’ individual economies. The Agadir Agreement founded in 2004 acted as a free trade agreement with the main goals included establishing free trade between member states and eventually creating a Mediterranean-European Free Trade Area by cooperating with the EU. These goals have not been achieved due to member state conflicts and blockades to a free trade area by the US. 

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Regional Membership of Surveyed Countries

In recent years any semblance of regional integration can be seen to be split down the middle with many states in the MENA taking sides in the Iran v. Saudi proxy conflict, that has primarily played out in the Yemeni civil war. To provide context for this regional rivalry, Iran (a majority Shia Islam country) and Saudi Arabia (a majority Sunni Islam country) have an ongoing sectarian-based conflict that has yet to devolve into all-out warfare directly against each other but has resulted in neighboring countries picking sides and regional meddling in order to exert influence. The Arab Spring uprisings in a few countries have exerted significant influence over this proxy conflict, as they have often acted as battlegrounds for this conflict to play out. In Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia have aided and armed opposing sides of each uprising, arguably contributing to the escalation from protest movements to full-blown civil wars in some cases. This rivalry is also another major barrier to full regional integration that will need to be overcome to foster future collaboration. 

The future of MENA regional integration may look grim, but there remains great potential for strong economic regional cooperation. A key economic suggestion for overcoming historical obstacles to large-scale collaboration would be for Arab countries to work on coordinating a cohesive trade policy for intraregional and interregional trade. Intraregional trade policy should focus on essentially eliminating all tariffs, quotas, and non-tariff barriers to trade between these countries, while still fostering some protection of vulnerable industries within the region from competition with more developed countries on global markets. Any Arab trade conglomerate would hopefully not advocate solely for protectionism which would be to their detriment, but instead, advocate for strategic protectionism that still allows consumers access to global markets, but still allows Arab industries to compete (think infant industry protection- A. Hamilton). Additionally, Arab states should strive to form a strong voting/negotiating coalition among them for World Trade Organization rounds/ ministerial conferences in order to approach these meetings with common regional stances, allowing them to actually pass rules/treaties that favor Less Developed Countries/benefit the region. Solutions across economic dimensions do not necessarily solve the barrier to integration that is the Saudi/Iranian rivalry, based on religious/cultural divides. However,  I believe that focusing on full economic integration first would help eliminate barriers to further integration such as the aforementioned conflict and commitment problems, as well as facilitate future collaboration through issue-linking and regulating repeating interactions between states. There is still much work to be done in order for these states to actualize integration, but the legacies of the Caliphate, Pan-Arabism, and contemporary economic collaboration, regional integration is both possible and realistic in the Middle East and North Africa.

¹Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, and Yemen

²Member countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

³Member countries include Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia

Member countries include Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

Member countries include Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

#TRIPWrapped: TRIP Summer 2020 in Review


by Morgan Doll, Zenobia Goodman, Maggie Manson, and Mary Trimble

September 3rd, 2020

This summer, the TRIP team has been working as hard as ever in a remote work environment! While we miss the GRI porch, we are happy to be staying safe from afar and grateful for zoom meetings that have kept us in touch. Our biggest news is that we said goodbye to Project Managers Emily and Eric, and welcomed our amazing new PM’s: Irene and Alex. Emily will be moving on to pursue her Ph.D. at Cornell University and Eric will be working on his Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Alex and Irene will be joining us from the University of California, San Diego where Irene completed her Masters of International Affairs, and Alex finished her Masters of Public Policy. We are so excited to welcome them to the team! 

Summer during the time of Coronavirus

Working at TRIP this summer certainly looked very different than a typical summer, but despite physical distance, TRIP was as socially connected and productive as ever! With RA Zenobia revamping our social media presence, and RA Maggie managing our blog, TRIP’s online presence was very prevalent. Over the course of three months, RAs worked on and published eight blog posts that covered pressing topics such as global perspectives on racism, academic views on the COVID-19 pandemic, and the effect of the pandemic on protest movements. RAs were able to stay connected digitally through weekly Zoom Meetings with our PM’s and often with our Primary Investigators where we brainstormed questions for our upcoming Think Tank survey, discussed social media and blog post ideas, and talked about life in the middle of a pandemic. Telework may have presented its own challenges, but as seen in the projects below, TRIP was able to adjust to a new work environment and thrive! 

For TRIP staying connected has always been an important part of our work. This became even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We realized that in order to stay connected with the W&M community and people around the world, revamping our social media strategy was imperative. This summer we began using our platform to promote Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This gave our research assistants a chance to interact with our Twitter followers! We also created an Instagram for TRIP (@trip_wm). We used our Instagram to introduce our RAs and interact with TRIP Alumni and researchers in a more casual way. This began with the introduction of “Why TRIP Wednesday” where our RAs introduced themselves and gave insight on why TRIP was the place for them and has evolved into a platform where we simply keep others informed on upcoming TRIP activities. Revamping our social media was a great way to stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and we can’t wait to see where our social media journey takes us! 

TRIP has a new book!

This spring, we released the long-awaited TRIP Book: Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations. This book uses TRIP data gathered over a fifteen-year period to analyze the structural divide in the academy’s ability to influence policy. Each chapter discusses a different issue including human rights, the environment, trade, and nuclear strategy from the viewpoint of scholars, and is followed by a response from policymakers. This conversation is both important and unique, and we are excited to bring the questions we ask every day at TRIP into the world by means of this book.

To help promote the book and meaningfully engage with its content as RAs who have been a part of compiling this data, we each read and reviewed a different chapter. Maggie focused on the nuclear strategy  chapters, Mary tackled the chapters addressing human rights and interstate conflict, Morgan looked at trade and the environment , and Zenobia worked on foreign aid. Maggie was even able to ask questions to the authors of one of these chapters, Michael Desch and Paul Avey, who described their process of working with TRIP data as follows: “We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.”

Check out our tweets at @TRIP_survey!

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How Think Tanks are influencing IR research 

After completing the journalist survey in the fall, we began compiling a list of Think Tanks to survey next. Our sample consists of the 76 most influential International Relations Think Tanks based in the U.S. including Brookings Institution, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Heritage Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations, Cato Institute, and Human Rights Watch. We chose to undertake this project because think tanks often serve as the middle ground between academics and the public. The people who conduct research at think tanks are not necessarily academics, even though some might be, and they are not journalists either. Rather than reading a lengthy article from an academic journal, the average person might be more likely to read a piece on a specific issue published by a think tank as it is more easily accessible and understandable. Thus, think tanks serve an important role in synthesizing academic knowledge and shaping the conversation on International Relations and current events. Our job as RAs was to gather contact information of the employees at these think tanks and decide whether or not to include them in our survey sample.

What’s Next?

Fall 2020 will certainly be a semester unlike any other. We are sad that we won’t be able to plant ourselves in our old corners of the Scotland Street houses, attend GRI events, or chat with our co-workers in the kitchen as we make our fourth cup of coffee of the day. Yet, this summer showed us that at GRI and at TRIP, the show can and must go on. This fall, we will work remotely to continue to build a sample for our newest survey, this time of staff at US-based NGOs and advocacy groups. Hopefully, that work will be done by the end of the semester so the PMs and PIs can begin drafting the questions for this survey. Like always, TRIP is interested in how these groups engage with academic knowledge in international relations, how they think about their own research, and what they consider to be “academic.” 

While this summer may not have looked exactly like we had imagined it would, we are so thankful for the opportunities and experiences TRIP and the Global Research Institute have provided us with and we can’t wait to see what is to come this fall!

Morgan Doll is a junior at the College of William and Mary majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. She started working as a Research Assistant for TRIP in September 2019. On campus, Morgan is a member of Camp Kesem William & Mary and Kappa Alpha Theta Women’s Fraternity. Her interests include human and civil rights, law, and decision making.

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in human rights violations and global development issues.

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

Mary Trimble is a sophomore at the College hoping to double major in European Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Mary began work at TRIP in February 2020. She is also an associate news editor for The Flat Hat student newspaper and a Tribe Ambassador with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Her interests include US-EU relations, national identity, and the rise of populism and far-right nationalism in the US and abroad.

A Student Responds: Foreign Aid and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Zenobia Goodman
August 14th, 2020

Chapter Six of “Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations” on Foreign Aid immediately captured my attention as a student interested in pursuing a career in International Development after graduating from William & Mary. Understanding foreign aid has become increasingly important due to the complexity of the topic caused by differentiating agendas between researchers and practitioners/ policymakers.

According to Christina Schneider, the Chapter’s author, there is a greater demand for linkages between scholars and the policy community in the international development community compared to other international relations subfields. Using TRIP survey data of IR Scholars, the table below shows the high demand for more research that is policy-relevant and related to major world events.


So how do we fill this gap?

Chapter Six touches on the different approaches between scholars and researchers in the field of Foreign Aid. Here are the three main takeaways from Chapter Six.

    • Though both quantitative and qualitative methods are valued by IR scholars, overwhelming, more IR scholars employ qualitative analysis.  The TRIP survey found that scholars are more likely to employ qualitative research methods over quantitative research methods for policy purposes.  The table below shows the distribution of methodological approaches used by IR scholars.  But more information is needed to understand the type of methodological approaches practitioners are in need of.


    • Increasing linkages between scholars and practitioners is not impossible! Schneider notes that policy practitioners and IR scholars do use the same methodological approaches. Improving transparency can help “increase the usability of academic research for Policy purposes” (92). An example of this is AidData: AidData employs both academic and policy workers to collaborate surrounding the behavior of development projects in areas such as China and India. Transparency seems to foster a relationship of trust and ease between different fields.


  • Differences in incentive structures are still an obstacle. Academics research doesn’t always line up with current events that need immediate attention. In addition, developing a research plan and implementing it can take up to 2-5 years, when policymakers may need it in less than a year to address current problems.

Chapter Six of the book was very interesting and insightful for understanding the application of research in developing foreign aid policy. There has been a lot of progress in reducing the gap over the years, however, work still needs to be done. The Chapter opened up my perspective on the needs of the international development community, and how my education at William and Mary and my experience at TRIP can help better understand the relationship between the academic and the policy worlds. 

Check out my tweet thread summary of Chapter Six on Foreign Aid on our Twitter: @trip_irsurvey 

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here:

Zenobia Goodman is a junior at the college, majoring in International Relations with a concentration in Global Education. She has worked at TRIP since the Spring semester of 2019. On campus, Zenobia is a member of the International Relations Club, a classroom assistant for a group of kindergartners, and a member of a social sorority. She is interested in the human rights violations and global development issues.

A Student Responds: Nuclear Strategy and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Maggie Manson

July 24, 2020

In their chapter in the new book edited by our TRIP Principal Investigators (Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, and Michael J. Tierney) and Daniel Maliniak, Paul C. Avey and Michael C. Desch aim to solve the question of why the discipline of international security, specifically nuclear strategy, has become less policy-relevant following the Cold War. They argue that a decline in policy-relevant academia, evidenced by the decline in the proportion of journal articles with policy prescriptions, can be attributed to modern research being presented in formats that are not easily accessible for policymakers to interpret and use.


The authors find an increase in the proportion of WMD and Arms Control articles that employ quantitative analysis, rather than qualitative, which they argue is indicative of the lack of accessibility of recent nuclear research and the professionalization of IR as a field.


While the results of this chapter are interesting, I have some further questions about the applicability of these findings to the reality of nuclear politics in the Trump era. Generally speaking, nuclear research doesn’t lend itself towards quantitative methods because there is a significant lack of case studies where nuclear weapons were employed offensively (there’s exactly one, the U.S. use of nuclear weapons against Japan near the end of WWII). While aspects of nuclear politics such as hedging, proliferation, and the nonproliferation regime can be understood through quantitative analysis of real-world events, the ultimate puzzle of what factors might lead to the use of nuclear weapons cannot be solved using quantitative methods.

While the argument of the chapter may have held up in previous post-Cold War years, I believe that there is a different reason for a lack of policy relevance in the era of the Trump Presidency. The authors argue that academic work doesn’t make its way into the policy process because of inaccessible methods, however, in the case of the Trump administration, it seems that his staff often purposefully ignores expert opinion. Trump has stated many times throughout his campaign and presidency that we as a country need to be more unpredictable in our actions on the world stage. Unpredictable actions cannot coexist with well-informed policy rooted in academic findings, especially in the realm of nuclear politics. So in the Trump era, it may not in fact be that research is not well understood by policymakers, but that it is altogether ignored.

According to Snap Poll XI, a majority of scholars find Trump’s strategy of unpredictability to be highly ineffective. So why does Trump insist upon this tactic, ignoring expert opinion?


I believe that it is not because of the inaccessibility of academic work, but instead his lack of respect for expert opinion. Avey and Desch’s argument may correctly explain the theory-policy gap in the nuclear realm pre-Trump, but I think that there is a more important factor preventing the current administration from engaging with academic material: their lack of appreciation for experts altogether. This chapter and argument are extremely compelling, so I asked the authors how they think it holds up in the Trump era.

  1.   How do you think your argument holds up in the Trump Era?

We think that the argument holds up reasonably well. If professional incentives lead nuclear scholars to turn inward to only study narrow questions amenable to certain techniques or theoretical approaches, then much of what we as scholars produce won’t be particularly relevant. There’s a lot of important questions today – from arms control to nonproliferation, to nuclear force modernization and strategy – that scholars can contribute to. It is important to put the problem at the center of analysis and then use the best approach available to answer the question. Policy practitioners are smart and can understand sophisticated approaches. But if the question and approach are not relevant to their problem set they’ll be even less likely to engage with academics. It is also incumbent on us to identify factors that policy can influence and present findings in a clear and consistent manner.

Different administrations will vary in how much they use social science work and approach experts. At its most senior levels, the Trump administration may be particularly skeptical as you note. Scholarship that is relevant may struggle to have influence across multiple administrations. The important point for us is that if the work is not relevant then there is almost no chance that it has influence.

  1.   What are your thoughts on John Harvey’s policy response to your chapter?

We thank Dr. Harvey for taking the time to engage our argument. We agree with much of what he said, not least because he notes that our assessment is “on the mark.” His response, as he notes, reinforces and extends our points. For example, he tells the story of how Ted Postol and Sally Ride failed to achieve faculty status at Stanford. For Harvey, the problem was that “they were not doing the traditional business of  academia (i.e., abstract knowledge production advancing a narrow field of study); they were working on real-world problems.” He later adds that “it was not easy to convince young social scientists and regional specialists to devote a portion of their time to policy-relevant research when prospective [academic] employers looked down on it.” Harvey highlights how disciplinary boundaries and approaches can inhibit engaging practical issues. This gets to the heart of our concern about disciplinary incentives marginalizing policy-relevant scholarship. We hope that this is changing in our field today, but we see reasons for concern. We also agree with his emphasis on time: policymakers have little of it and it matters when you introduce an idea. Scholars must be attentive to both of these factors if they work to engage practitioners.

  1.   How does your argument fit into the limits of nuclear politics research?

There are several challenges to nuclear politics research. To highlight just two, you rightly raise the challenge of small numbers and there are major secrecy issues surrounding nuclear weapons strategy and programs. This highlights the importance of our argument. Professional incentives to only study questions that are amenable to certain techniques or access can prevent scholars from exploring key issues. This is not, and we want to emphasize this, an argument against careful research and method, or an appreciation of the limits of what we can claim based on the available evidence. Our point is that if the balance moves too far in one direction then important questions will go unasked. Scholars will conduct ever-narrower studies on issues that aren’t relevant or transferrable to policy problems.

  1. What was your experience like working with TRIP data?

We have been fortunate to have worked with TRIP on multiple projects. TRIP data is an invaluable tool for understanding broad trends in the discipline and the nature of the academic-policy gap. There is still a lot to be learned from what they have collected.  

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here:

Maggie Manson is a junior at William & Mary, majoring in International Relations and Middle Eastern Studies.  She began working at TRIP in September 2019. Her research interests include Border Disputes, Colonialism, Global Development, International Security, Middle Eastern Politics, Nuclear Politics, and Political Islam. On campus Maggie is Assistant Chair of Administration for the Undergraduate Honor Council, a research assistant for Professor Grewal’s Armed Responses to Mobilization Or Revolution (ARMOR) project, and Political Correspondent for the Flat Hat student newspaper.

A Student Responds: Interstate Conflict and the Theory-Practice Divide

by Mary Trimble

July 21, 2020

In their chapter, “Lost in Translation: Academics, Policymakers, and Research about Interstate Conflict,” Sarah Kreps and Jessica Weeks suggest that the gap between academics and practitioners in the area of interstate conflict isn’t so much a problem of demand as of supply. In other words, if academics were better at explaining their research to the policymaker, data from the 2011 TRIP survey of national security establishment shows that the policymaker would find it useful and relevant to their work.

Their data also show that where academic theories have saturated the practitioner world, like realism or “clash of civilizations” theory, they tend to be outdated or have fallen out of vogue in academia, which makes continuous sharing of scholarly research all the more important. This is an encouraging finding, because it is one which suggests an easy fix: scholars should write more op-eds for more mainstream publications, like Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and The Washington Post’s The Monkey Cage.

While reading, it struck me that such a solution may present an opportunity during the Trump administration, for example in the Department of Defense, where there is currently significant turnover of officials in the politically-appointed upper echelons. This presents two possibilities as it relates to Kreps and Weeks’ research.

On the one hand, perennially new superiors might rely more heavily on well-informed, well-placed staffers and establishment folks, such as those in the survey sample in Avey and Desch 2014. Thus, where the national security establishment is engaging in scholarship, it may have an outsize effect in the context of the Trump administration; and if scholars wrote more well placed op-eds! What a utopia for the academia-policy pipeline.

On the other hand, with every new appointment, the work environment becomes more deeply polarized, as officials seen as disloyal are replaced with figures friendlier to the administration. One hallmark of the administration has been a disdain for expertise, and the tendency of politically appointed leadership to perform for an audience of one.  Would they be friendly to the scholarly argument, or simply to one that isn’t ideological?

In his response, Peter Feaver provides some potential answers. Theory is essential, but also often implicit: thus, a political official may never know a Foreign Policy article by an academic was the basis of their briefing, so the problem of hostility to the research is eliminated. However, Fever also notes that academic research tends to be more useful at providing context for a given scenario than concrete solutions. Theory can explain what actions states or individuals tend to take when confronted with similar scenarios, but it can’t necessarily tell you how to avoid war in the next fifteen minutes.

Feaver makes a clever suggestion, with which I agree: in the next survey, find out what policymakers are curious about in the world of interstate conflict. Perhaps academia already has the answer and need only point them to it, and perhaps it will open up new avenues for inquiry (that they can then write about in The Monkey Cage).


In comparing the academic and policy chapters, what emerges, for me, is an interesting question about what it is academics believe is the goal of research on interstate conflict, in real terms. In the 2017 TRIP Faculty Survey, IR scholars in international security were slightly more likely to say that their research was “basic” (done simply for the sake of knowledge) than “applied” (with a specific policy application in mind). Kreps and Weeks argue that scholars need only make their research available for it to be useful for policymakers, but the belief in that goal seems less than universal.

Preview or buy Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide in International Relations from Georgetown University Press here: