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Public Opinion and the Syrian Crisis in Three Democracies

8 November 2013 - 7 November 2014

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Jason Reifler

Research partners: Professor Thomas Scotto (leading), Professor Paul Whiteley and Professor Harold Clarke (University of Essex)

Funding awarded: £ 12,157 (total funding of £ 183,451)

Sponsor(s): ESRC

Project webpage(s)

Public Opinion and the Syrian Crisis in Three Democracies

About the research

Lead Investigator: Professor Thomas Scotto, University of Essex

Co-investigators: Jason Reifler (University of Exeter), Professor Paul Whiteley (University of Essex|) and Professor Harold Clarke (University of Essex).

Recent horrific events in Syria have shocked politicians and publics alike. They also have played a key role demonstrating the importance of public opinion in foreign policy-making.  Emphasising the effects of public opinion on foreign policy constitutes a major departure from the past. Traditionally, commentators discounted the impact of public opinion in this area, arguing foreign policy-making is largely elite-driven (eg, Allison, 1972; Ashford, 1981; Peters, 1986). However, over the past decade, there has been increasing awareness that public opinion matters (eg, Gelpi, Feaver and Reifler 2009). Very recently, the decisions by Prime Minister Cameron and President Obama to take the question of military intervention in Syria to their respective legislatures illustrate that public attitudes are now a consequential force shaping foreign policy-making in Britain and elsewhere. 

The proposed research investigates factors affecting public opinion about foreign policy by studying the dynamics of opinion about possible military and humanitarian aid interventions in Syria in three major democracies - Great Britain, the United States and France.  he Syrian situation has great real-world urgency while presenting a significant opportunity to bolster understanding of how public opinion shapes and constrains the policies that elites can choose.

ESRC website: 


Economic and Social Research Council