Public Opinion and Human Rights

What are the public’s perceptions of human rights and what role does public opinion play in shaping states’ human rights policies at home and abroad?  I have a series of collaborative projects that aim to answer these questions.  The first, which is outlined below, examines the role of public opinion in generating support for humanitarian intervention.  The second is a set of papers, co-authored with Dona-Gene Barton and Sergio Wals (both of the University of Nebraska) on the relationship between public perceptions, democracy and security in Mexico.  Click on the Perceptions of Human Rights in Mexico tab to learn more.

The Domestic Politics of Humanitarian Intervention – Public Opinion, Partisanship and Ideology:  (With Timothy Hildebrandt, Peter Holm and Jon C. Pevehouse)  The debate around humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect (R2P) generally concerns a collective action problem on the international level:  motivating states to participate in a multilateral coalition to stop a mass atrocity.  This debate presupposes that states enjoy a domestic consensus about their rights and responsibilities to intervene.  This article reconsiders this assumption and examines the sources of domestic political will for intervention, particularly the role of partisanship, ideology and public opinion on Congressional members’ willingness to support U.S. intervention for humanitarian purposes.  We analyze several Congressional votes relevant to four episodes of U.S. humanitarian intervention:  Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.  We find that public support for humanitarian intervention increases Congressional support and that other political demands, primarily partisanship and ideological distance from the president, often trump the normative exigencies of intervention.  Our findings shed light on the domestic political dynamics behind humanitarian intervention and can help explain why some recent humanitarian missions have proceeded without seeking Congressional approval. Our paper is available here.  We also published an Op-Ed on public opinion and humanitarian intervention on CNN.com.