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Elites and Masses: Another Look at Attitudes toward America's World Role

Eugene R. Wittkopf
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2600450 131-159 First published online: 1 June 1987


The post-Vietnam breakdown of the presumed foreign policy consensus of the Cold War years has become a touchstone of American foreign policy analyses during the past decade. Diachronic analysis of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations' quadrennial public opinion surveys demonstrates the persistence of a belief system among the mass public defined by two distinct attitude dimensions, cooperative and militant internationalism. Elite attitudes after 1978 are somewhat less easily characterized but still reflect elements of “selective internationalism.” When the mass and elite samples are pooled, elites are consistently found in higher proportions than masses in the internationalist and accommodationist quadrants of the attitude clusters defined by the militant and cooperative internationalism dimensions. The mass public, on the other hand, is more evenly distributed among the four categories, with a consistently higher proportion in the hardline and isolationist quadrants. Ideology and partisanship predict to Americans' foreign policy beliefs, but differences between elites and masses inhere in the occupancy of opinion-making roles. Those attentive to foreign and public affairs are shown to hold elite-like foreign policy attitudes.

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