Matthew A. Baum

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Getting the Message: Information Transparency and the Domestic Politics of Militarized Disputes

Previous research (Van Belle 2000) has found evidence that, due to its capacity to enhance information transparency, and thereby mitigate information failures, a free press can have a pacifying effect on democracies, at least when they are involved in disputes with other democracies that also have free presses.  Yet, this research has failed to consider the importance of public access to the press. After all, if only a small minority of the public has access to the media, as is the case in many countries, then a free press will not reach beyond elites. Any pacifying (or other) effects of a free press under such circumstances would appear to derive primarily from the influence of elites, signaling to each other within and across countries, and operating within the context of democratic institutions, rather than directly from the masses. This study extends my previous research (Baum 2004a, 2004b) into the effects of public opinion on presidential decision-making in the United States, combined with the effects of mass media consumption on public attitudes regarding foreign policy (Baum 2003). Building on the theoretical arguments developed in these prior studies, I employ the logic of domestic audience costs, as developed by Fearon (1994) and others, in order to propose a mechanism through which democratic publics may, at least under some circumstances, constrain the freedom of maneuver of their leaders, even in the decidedly “high politics” arena of foreign affairs. I test a series of hypotheses derived from my theory on the effects of media penetration (i.e., access to the media by mass publics) and independence (i.e., press freedom) on international crisis behavior against a directed dyadic time-series cross-sectional data set, including annual observations for over 100 countries from 1975 through 2000. I find that mass public access to information about their nation’s activities, in interaction with press freedom and regime type, is indeed a significant factor influencing states’ conflict behavior.


You can download a pdf copy of this paper from the APSA 2006 conference paper archive, here.


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