Associate Professor of Political Science
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works in progress

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  • How Do Observers Assess Resolve?  [Josh Kertzer, Jonathan Renshon & Keren Yarhi-Milo]

Despite a plethora of theoretical frameworks, IR scholars have struggled with the question of how we assess the resolve of others. Our innovations are twofold. Conceptually, we develop an integrative framework that unites otherwise disconnected theories, viewing them as a set of heuristics actors use to simplify information-rich environments. Methodologically, we employ a conjoint experiment that provides empirical traction difficult to obtain with alternative research designs, finding that ordinary citizens are “intuitive deterrence theorists” who make judgments consistent with a number of popular theories in IR, but inconsistent with others. We replicate these results among a sample of elite decision-makers, who converge with the public in how they interpret costly signals, and in viewing democracies as less resolved than autocracies.

  • Are Red Lines Red Herrings? [Josh Kertzer, Jonathan Renshon & Keren Yarhi-Milo]

If an older conventional wisdom in scholarly and policy-making circles held that reputation was “one of the few things worth fighting for,” a more recent argument holds that past actions are relatively costless. Using archival evidence, reputation critics have argued that a country’s credibility is rarely at stake, as foreign observers discount an actor’s actions in the past when calculating her credibility in the present. We introduce a new type of evidence into this debate, presenting the results from original surveys fielded on four samples (both foreign decision-makers, foreign publics, and American IR scholars) to study the reputation costs incurred by various actors as a result of the Russian invasion of Crimea and the ongoing Syrian civil war. Our results suggest that American IR scholars may be underestimating the magnitude of reputation costs the US has incurred by backing down on threats. 

  • Tying Hands, Sinking Costs and Leader Attributes  [Keren Yarhi-Milo, Josh Kertzer & Jonathan Renshon]   

Do costly signals work? Despite their widespread popularity, both hands-tying and sunk-cost signaling have come under criticism, and there’s little direct evidence that leaders understand costly signals the way our models tell us they should. We present evidence from a survey experiment fielded on a unique sample of elite decision-makers from the Israeli Knesset. We find that both types of costly signaling are effective in shaping assessments of resolve, for both leaders and the public. However, although theories of signaling tend to assume homogenous audiences, we show that leaders vary significantly in how credible they perceive signals to be, depending on their foreign policy dispositions, rather than their levels of military or political experience. Our results thus encourage IR scholars to more fully bring heterogeneous recipients into our theories of signaling, and point to the important role of dispositional orientations for the study of leaders. 

  • Democratic Leaders, Crises and War: Paired Experiments on the Israeli Knesset [Jonathan Renshon, Keren Yarhi-Milo & Josh Kertzer]    

IR theorists have focused recently on the implications of regime type for cri- sis behavior, but any answer to the question of whether democracies are seen as more resolved or effective must account for the fact that, while our theories hinge on the beliefs of leaders, evidence has necessarily come from second-order implications concerning state behavior. We put leaders’ beliefs directly under the microscope, fielding a survey experiment on a unique elite sample of members of the Israeli Knesset. We find that Israeli leaders perceive democracies as more likely to back down in a crisis but more likely to emerge victorious in wars. Paired surveys of the Israeli public allow us to evaluate how similar leaders are to the public they represent, and the mechanisms through which democracy shapes beliefs about conflict, finding support for the notion that experiments on “the average citizen” (at least in some cases) generalize nicely to elites. 

  • Putting Things in Perspective: Mental Simulation in Experimental Political Science   [Josh Kertzer & Jonathan Renshon]  

Whether leaders taking the perspective of rivals or allies, student subjects taking the perspective of leaders in lab studies, or citizens taking their own perspective in hypothetical scenarios, most modern IR scholarship draws implicitly on perspective- taking. Unfortunately, several decades of psychological research suggests that individuals vary tremendously in their ability to see the world through others' eyes. We provide a conceptual framework for understanding perspective-taking in IR, focusing on the nature of the "target" (first or third-person) and individuals' inability to adjust from their initial anchor: their own beliefs. Across three experimental studies, we find evidence that perspective-taking exacerbates pre-existing attitudes towards the use of force, making hawks more hawkish and doves more dovish. Perspective-taking thus makes people more like themselves, which raises the prospect that participants are less like themselves in studies that do not take perspective-taking into account. 

  • Sleaze, Slime, and Strategy: How Leaders Use ‘Dirty Tricks’ to Stoke Moral Outrage for Political Gain [w. Thomas Zeitzoff]

The use of ‘dirty tricks’ by political leaders is ubiquitous in U.S. and world politics. These tactics range from those that maintain the veneer of plausible deniability, such as repeating rumors or insinuating that one’s opponent’s accent is “fake,’” to less subtle machinations, such as encouraging vandalism of places of worship, stoking ethnic or religious fears, stealing information from opposing campaigns, and even in one documented case, placing fictional candidates on the ballot. Despite their ubiquity, many pundits see these actions or verbal attacks as evidence of the corruption of either the leaders themselves or their political institutions. We argue that the use of dirty tricks by leaders is strategic, and develop a theory whereby leaders use these tactics to invoke a particular response either from their political supporters or opponents. In service of that theory, we first create a typology that systematizes the voluminous repertoire of dirty tricks used by politicians in the U.S. and around the world. In Study 1, we use a survey instrument to estimate U.S. citizens’ responses to these actions and generate a “moral outrage index” that focuses on (1) emotional reactions to the action and (2) the perceived harm caused by it. In Study 2, we field an experiment designed to analyze the consequences of dirty tricks, both in terms of the effects on individuals’ cognitive and emotional state, as well on more diffuse harm done to citizens’ faith in government. 

  • International Status and Presidential Approval  [Ryan Powers & Jonathan Renshon]

Over the past two decades, our understanding of how international politics affects domestic support for political leaders has been strongly shaped by theories of audience costs. We argue that this emphasis, while not misplaced, is incomplete. We draw on the burgeoning literature on status in international relations to show that, regardless of the foreign policy choices that leaders make, their performance in executing those policies matters because it affects the status that states enjoy in the international system. We use experiments embedded in a survey of the U.S. public and recent advancements in causal mediation analysis to demonstrate that international status concerns are an important determinant of public evaluations of political leaders. We show that international status concerns are important across a diverse set of issue areas. Ultimately, we conclude that international status concerns are an important determinant of citizen evaluations of political leaders and that there should be renewed emphasis how public opinion might affect international politics. 

  • The Complexity of Influence: Power and Status in the Interstate Alliance Network [Jonathan Renshon & Camber Warren]

The twin concepts of “power” (i.e., material capacities) and “status” (i.e., social rank) have for decades been cornerstones of international relations theory. A recent surge in empirical work on these factors has demonstrated that both concepts — each a distinct component of a state’s ability to influence actions and outcomes — exercise independent and substantial effects on patterns of interstate conflict. However, limitations in the empirical approaches used in these studies have prevented effective investigation of the mechanisms underlying these aggregate correlations; that is, we know that power and status matter, but not how and why they matter. Here, we present a new approach to this question, by estimating dynamic, stochastic models of the evolution of the global interstate military alliance network, over the period 1920 to 2000. We argue that in selecting alliance partners, states will seek to minimize the costs of their own future defections from their alliance commitments, and will therefore condition their choices on the “second-order” properties of the alliance network (that is, the levels of status and power held by the partners of their partners). Our empirical findings show strong support for these expectations, demonstrating that ceteris paribus, states be- come more attractive partners for alliance commitments when their existing coalitions combine high levels of power with low levels of status, as these are the states which are likely to offer the greatest opportunities for free-riding in the event that future hostilities lead to the invocation of alliance obligations.