Ideology and Scholarly Insights

The ideological divide between International Relations scholars varies greatly between foreign policy issues. Understanding which issues appear to stimulate strong ideological fissures allows us a measure of healthy skepticism when interpreting surveys of scholars. Consumers of academic knowledge should withhold some confidence in scholarly claims until we better understand how scholars arrive at their conclusions. On issues where ideology may cause differing views, we should acknowledge this difference when evaluating overall conclusions, particularly since IR scholars are mostly liberal.

The Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project’s 2017 Snap Poll includes responses from 1,395 IR scholars at U.S. colleges and universities. In our sample, 181 scholars identify as somewhat or very conservative on economic or social issues. The large sample of IR scholars allows us to examine the ideological divide within the academy and provide initial support a potential causal relationship between ideology and views on certain issues.

The divide is present on some of the issues we asked scholars to evaluate. First, we asked scholars if they approved or disapproved of “President Donald Trump’s proposed policy of withdrawing U.S. support” (1) from the Iran nuclear weapons agreement and (2) for international climate change agreements. Finally, we asked scholars if they believe that ISIS is a major threat to the United States. According to basic logistic regression models, the apparent role of ideology varies among these issues.

Aidanfall1A simple logistic regression of approval to leave the Iran Deal on conservative ideology estimates that conservative scholars are 60 times more likely to support this policy than non-conservative scholars. Ideology explains about a third of the variation in support, suggesting this may be an ideologically salient issue. Iran is a controversial country and has a complicated history with America and its allies, so American perceptions of the deal are deeply partisan.

The next step is to control for factors separate from deep-seated political ideology. The deal relaxed sanctions on Iran and frustrated Israel, an American ally. Therefore, I first controlled for individuals’ belief in the effectiveness of sanctions and maintaining existing alliances as foreign policy tools of the United States. The power of ideology increased slightly, and neither of the foreign policy controls were statistically significant. Next, I included the perceived effectiveness of international agreements and military intervention, since that is often presented as the forced trade-off here. Both of those controls are significant, but conservatives are still 28 times as likely as non-conservatives to approve of Trump’s proposal.

I want to examine different ideological perspectives, so I finally control for confidence in President Trump “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” Conservative scholars are about 11 times more likely than non-conservative scholars to approve of Trump leaving the Iran nuclear agreement, even controlling for the policymaking controls and confidence in President Trump. 

An ideological divide is also present on President Donald Trump’s proposed policy of withdrawing U.S. support for international climate change agreements. A simple logistic regression estimates that conservatives are almost 80 times as likely as non-conservatives to support this policy. Almost half the variation in support for withdrawing U.S. support for climate agreements is explained by ideology.

I add controls for the perceived effectiveness of international agreements and international organizations and the ideology gap decreases to 54 times as likely. Belief in international organizations has a statistically significant and negative relationship with approval of this policy. This is unsurprising since the largest climate agreements, notably the Paris Agreement, are negotiated through the United Nations.

Finally, the full model controls for confidence in President Trump as well. Conservative scholars in our sample are about 26 times as likely to approve of withdrawing U.S. support for international climate change agreements than non-conservative scholars, controlling for confidence in Trump, international agreements, and international organizations. Scholars who are confident in Trump are 7 times as likely to support his climate policy. The variation between these estimates show that ideology appears to play a role in scholars’ beliefs on key questions in international affairs, even beyond their expressed political preferences.

However, the role of ideology, and its relationship with political preferences, is not consistent on all issues. A simple logistic regression between scholars’ belief that ISIS is a major threat and ideology finds no significant relationship. In fact, ideology explains less than 1 percent of their perceived threat of ISIS. A hawkish attitude, measured by confidence in military intervention to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals, appears to matter. However, even this relationship breaks down when controlling for confidence in President Trump. Candidate Trump ran on an anti-interventionist stance, but scholars with confidence in Trump are more likely to view ISIS as a major threat than those without confidence in Trump, even though ideology is statistically and substantively insignificant.

Some foreign policy issues, such as climate change agreements and the Iran nuclear deal, appear to stimulate ideological differences in how scholars view the issues and possible solutions. If ideology causes scholars to hold differing views, we must acknowledge this difference when evaluating overall conclusions. Understanding potential ideological biases of scholars allows us to more accurately compare their views. This would make data collected by TRIP and other groups far more valuable. If we can evaluate issues with an understanding of the role of ideology, we will benefit from the vast knowledge and experience of international relations scholars.

 
Aidan Donovan is a junior 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.

Trump’s Foreign Policy and Presidential Powers: What Do the Experts Think?

By Lucas Arnett

October 1st, 2019

Last week, an anonymous whistle-blower filed a complaint calling into question handling of sensitive information. President Trump went to “great lengths” to classify the details around a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelensky in which the President asked his counterpart to “look into” a now discredited accusation of Former Vice President Joe Biden only a few days after announcing plans to withhold $400 million in military aid to the Ukranian government. Although Mr. Zelensky denies being pressured and Mr. Trump claims it’s just another ‘witch hunt’, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set in motion plans for an impeachment inquiry. 

It’s no secret that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy doctrine of unpredictability has been controversial for some time, but scholars could at least agree the President had not overstepped his authority as a President. Now, following the political storm surrounding Wednesday’s events, scholars are being forced to reconsider the impact of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy in a more serious light. The Teaching Research and International Policy (TRIP) team at the College of William and Mary’s Global Research Institute (GRI), at which I am a research assistant, conducted a survey in October investigating what scholars think of Trump’s foreign policy. 

Trump’s foreign policy has never been popular. Of the 1075 scholars who responded to our survey, 81.1% believe President Trump’s doctrine of unpredictability is not an effective tactic for negotiation. Being unpredictable makes it harder for analysts to understand the President’s agenda and priorities, and it makes our allies less certain that we will come to their aid if need be. Add to that the series of semantic slip-ups the President’s made including revealing classified information to the Russian foreign minister and referring to a variety of developing countries as ‘shitholes’ and it’s not surprising that his policy is unpopular. In October of 2018, 93.2% of experts agreed that the United States is less respected internationally since the Trump administration came into power, and 99.2% of those scholars agree that’s a problem. 

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Scholars also disagree with almost every foreign policy decision Trump has made. One of the Trump administration’s first actions was to pass a budget proposal which included a drastic cut in development aid. When asked whether the United States should increase development aid to counteract Chinese influence, only 1.86% of scholars advocated for a decrease in aid compared to 72.9% advocating for an increase, and 22.07% advocating for no change. Additionally, only 6.7% of scholars think President Trump’s DPRK policy will lead to denuclearization, 93% of scholars oppose the President’s proposal to withdraw from NATO, and only 8% of scholars support the President’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. 

Despite a controversial foreign policy, scholars have largely been divided on the issue of executive authority. In late 2018, 48.6% of scholars believed the President had not overstepped his foreign policy powers compared to 41.6% who believed he did and 9.8% who selected “don’t know.” President Trump’s unorthodox travel ban and a flexible interpretation of “national emergency” also were not enough to convince scholars that executive power has increased; in fact 67.9% of scholars agree Presidential power has not increased under Mr. Trump’s administration. On the grounds of abuse of power, scholars don’t seem to recognize a precedent of unpunished impeachable offenses. 

The whistleblower’s complaint incited the political straw that finally broke Congress’s back and it has certainly drawn the public’s attention, but will this be enough to convince academics that President Trump’s ineffectual, unorthodox foreign policy may be putting our country at risk? Is the President’s “lockdown” of the phone call’s transcript symptomatic of an unconventional foreign policy or an attempted cover-up of a large-scale corruption, extortion, and bribery scandal? We’ll have to keep watching. 

 

Lucas Arnett is a proud member of William & Mary’s class of 2022. He’s  interested in going into the field of International Relations, ideally starting with the Peace Corps and then settling into a calmer desk job as an analyst after a few years. On campus, Lucas is involved with the WM Debate Society, the Eco Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI), and the Catholic church. A fun fact about Lucas is that his ancestors founded a town in the Midwest called Arnettsville, which still bears his family’s name to this day.

Spooky Scary Cyberwar

By Peter Leonard

The news has been blowing up recently with reports that Iran may have been behind an attack on a Saudi Arabian oilfield and processing facility. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the first to point a finger at Iran, claiming that all evidence pointed to Iran’s involvement. Now, the U.S and Iran are back on the brink of conflict in what has been a tumultuous year. With conventional warfare an unlikely option, the U.S. and Iran could be gearing up for a full-on cyberwar.

When considering the events of the past week, it is important to examine the background of the conflict to contemplate where the countries will go from here. The current tensions with Iran can be partially linked back to the United States withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018. President Donald Trump’s decision to renege on the deal frustrated scholars and policy practitioners alike. According to a TRIP poll conducted in 2017, 94% of scholars disapproved of Donald Trump withdrawing the U.S. from the nuclear agreement. 

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More importantly, the U.S. withdrawal angered many within the Iranian government. Those who had proposed making peace with the United States now had nothing to show for it. It also appeared to prove that the government’s hawkish factions had been right about not trusting the United States. As a consequence, militaristic factions in Iran became more aggressive about confronting the United States.

Here is where cybersecurity enters the picture. Scholars have said that cyberwarfare would be a major threat for years. In the same 2017 TRIP poll, scholars placed cyberwarfare as one of the top five foreign policy issues facing the U.S. today. When asked about the threat potential of cyberwarfare, 51.93% of scholars noted a cyberattack from another country was a “major threat,” compared to a minor threat or no threat at all. 

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Tying this information back to Iran, the vast majority of scholars said international agreements were somewhat effective or very effective at achieving the foreign policy goals of the United States. These statistics stand in sharp contrast to a militaristic approach. Over 79% of scholars said military interventions were either “not very effective” or “not effective at all” in achieving foreign policy goals. Clearly, this data suggests that scholars would prefer a diplomatic approach like the JCPOA over military excursions, including cyberattacks. However, it now seems like current events are trending in the opposite direction.

On June 13, 2019, Iran attacked two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, angering the U.S. and its allies. After saying the U.S. was “locked and loaded,” President Trump backed down from his threats to strike back, or so it seemed. More discreetly, the U.S. carried out several cyberattacks against Iranaian targets, focusing on groups that helped carry out the attack. The cyberattack was not the first time the U.S. had targeted Iran. The US/Israeli-made computer virus “Stuxnet” damaged Iranian computer programs in 2010, infecting over 200,000 computers

The difference between 2010 and 2019, though, is that Iran now has the potential to strike back. The 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment stated that “Iran continued to present a cyber espionage and attack threat” to the U.S. The report further stated that Iran “is capable of causing localized, temporarily disruptive effects – such as disrupting a large company’s corporate networks for days to weeks.” The report refers to an example where Iranian hackers hit a petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia, attempting to trigger an explosion. It now even seems that Russia has helped Iran improve its hacking abilities. 

As previously noted, scholars believe international agreements are more effective at resolving conflict than military interventions. However, the JCPOA is no longer on the table and it does not seem like the U.S. nor Iran are willing to renegotiate the deal any time soon. Iran’s increased technological capabilities, combined with the U.S. relying increasingly on cyberattacks instead of conventional warfare, leaves the two countries in a precarious position. A cyberwar presents high risk for low reward. Indeed, a cyberwar may just escalate to a full on war. Both countries should figure out a path forward through another diplomatic agreement, not through pernicious lines of code targeted at the other.

 

Peter Leonard graduated from William & Mary in 2019 with degrees in Government and History. He is currently pursuing his master’s degree in secondary education at William & Mary’s School of Education, as he wants to be a high school Social Studies teacher. Peter loves hiking, playing ultimate frisbee, and watching baseball (he’s been a diehard Rockies fan since birth and was raised in Colorado.) When it comes to International Relations, Peter is interested in how regime type and structure impacts how a government functions and how accountable the government is to its people.

TRIP goes to APSA

TRIP is back after a brief hiatus. Before settling into Op-Ed and Journal coding for the semester, TRIP made a detour up to Washington, D.C. for the American Political Science Association’s (APSA) annual conference. We all attended different panels, learned about interesting methods, and got to meet scholars who have worked with TRIP data.

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Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Vera

This was my first APSA, and I really enjoyed it! I had the opportunity to attend several intriguing panels. One of my favorite panels was a roundtable on Nomi Lazar’s book, Out of Joint: Power, Crisis, and the Rhetoric of Time, in which the author argues that leaders construct time (both rhetorically and literally) in order to consolidate power in times of crisis. The book spoke to my personal interest in power and discursive practices, and inspired me to think in new ways. Because APSA is such a large event (the 2019 conference had about 6500 attendees!), there was a wide variety of panels and presentations spread across three hotels. The conference exposed me to ideas that I wasn’t familiar with before, such as food systems theory, which is interested in a critical understanding of how and by whom food is produced and consumed, as well as meanings attached to food. 

Patrick

 I really appreciate the opportunity to attend the APSA conference. It allowed me to communicate with researchers in the field of political science and international relations. It also provided me with the opportunity to learn about the research topics that are currently popular in academia. One of the most memorable events I attended was a panel focused on the dynamics of state-building across time and space. In this panel, scholars from different universities around the world presented their works regarding influential factors in the formation of different states. Under the division of comparative politics, this panel included researchers using both quantitative and qualitative methodological approaches and focusing on various regions around the world. 

Moira

APSA was my first ever time at a political science conference, so I had no idea what to expect going in. It was interesting seeing the relationships between scholars and policymakers play out right in front of me. At the panel hosted by William & Mary Professor Susan Peterson titled “Cult of the Irrelevant? The Influence of IR Scholarship of National Security” it was cool to see the effects of TRIP’s data dissemination efforts present in the work of policy makers. Other personal highlights included a panel titled  “The People as Swarm, Crowd, & Rabble” that discussed the diverse language invoked across different political locations and historical junctures to describe populist political movements and crossing paths with George Washington University Professor and prolific Monkey Cage contributor Henry Farrell.

Aidan

Aidan provides his thoughts on the above mentioned panel hosted by Susan Peterson:

Michael Horowitz’s optimistic counter to Desch provided a few interesting ideas. A focus on micro-change, instead of direct and high-level policy influence provides a new perspective. Utilizing outlets read by low- and mid-level policymakers, which our current project examines, may be a very effective way to involve academic knowledge in policy-making. I also think we should study the possible intersection of policy relevance and a necessary focus on quantitative methods and research design. When I look at journal articles with a policy prescription in the TRIP Journal Article Database, I find only a small difference between quantitative and all other articles’ use of explicit policy prescriptions. Just 4 percent of quantitative articles and 11 percent of all other articles include an explicit policy prescription. However, linking scholarly irrelevance to methodological focus obscures the feasibility of answering policy relevant questions with rigorous empirical methods, given the right incentives and clear communication.

Emily

I was so happy that we were able to have the RAs come up to Washington with us for this conference. I loved seeing them excited about the world of political science, and I thought we all really benefited from listening in on the ‘rigor-relevance’ debate at the Desch roundtable. I went to a few different panels on my own, and as a prospective graduate student, it was great to learn about the research going on at different universities and even meet some of the people whose work I admire. My favorite panel was on advancements in qualitative methods. Hearing about archival and field work methodologies rooted in sociology and anthropology research traditions that are being put to use in political science made me really excited about the possibilities of an interdisciplinary research agenda.

 

Finally, we would like to thank everyone who donated to TRIP for One Tribe One Day. Your generous donations gave us the opportunity to travel to DC and learn interesting new things about international relations and political science outside the classroom. These are the kinds of enlightening experiences that your donations pay for, and it is so important to our education and undergraduate research experience. Thank you!