Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



When making equivalent foreign policy decisions, why do national leaders sometimes face stronger constraints from the mass public? A growing number of studies recognize the effect of public opinion on foreign policy decision-making. While not having the authority to formulate foreign policy, the mass public can hold national leaders accountable in formal and informal ways. However, public opinion does not function as an automatic constraint on national leaders. Instead, public opinion provides more powerful constraints on foreign policy decision-making conditional on the context shaping popular beliefs and social behavior.

In this dissertation, I delve into the public perceptions of domestic and foreign identity to specify the micro-foundations of popular foreign policy constraints. I start by considering how social identify reflects public perceptions of foreign states. I conceptualize the perceptions as foreign state images and subsume earlier discussions on state images into a systematic and generalizable causal framework. In the framework, I reformulate two core concepts of international relations—rivalry and hierarchy—into a theory of social identity that explains (1) how public opinion is formed around foreign policy and (2) why crisis bargaining sometimes faces strong constraints from the mass public. I argue that foreign state image activates corresponding identity roles of the national-self (ego) and foreign counterparts (alter). Based on the relationship between the ego and alter roles, citizens form expectations about appropriate foreign policy and take action to constrain leaders whose behaviors deviate from their preferences.

Three empirical studies validate my theory in the American context with unique data collection. In the first study, I conduct a pilot and a national survey to demonstrate foreign state images serve as the baseline building block of foreign policy attitudes. In the second study, two survey experiments reveal that the effects of foreign state images on audience costs are conditional on party affiliation. In the last empirical study, I theorize a model of trilateral interstate relationships and provided evidence for popular balancing of threat. The explanatory framework and the three empirical studies in this dissertation make unique and important contributions to the studies of IR, Foreign Policy Analysis, and Public Opinion.



Committee Chair

Sullivan, Christopher M.

Available for download on Sunday, May 17, 2026