Making Sense of Consensus: Social Desirability Bias and Hawkish Attitudes among U.S. Foreign Policy Elites

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Thursday, April 4, 2024
3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Bunche Hall 10383

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Psychological theories of international relations emphasize how personality traits, political misperceptions, and cognitive biases favor hawkish decision-making by foreign policy elites. In addition to these individual pathologies, we propose how group-level pathologies—namely career and reputational concerns within the Washington think tank community—accentuate these biases by encouraging elites to publicly express more hawkish views than their private beliefs. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a novel survey experiment of more than four-hundred national security and foreign policy professionals about their views towards the People’s Republic of China. Our findings reflect noticeable diversity in their perspectives despite widespread claims of a ‘bipartisan consensus’ in Washington. Moreover, by varying the perceived anonymity of these professionals’ responses, we examine to what degree their public and private preferences towards U.S.-China policy diverge.

Rory Truex is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. He received his undergraduate degree from Princeton in 2007, and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Yale in 2014. His research and teaching focuses on Chinese politics and authoritarian systems. In 2021 he received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, the highest teaching honor at Princeton. He currently resides in Philadelphia.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies