The Journal of Politics (forthcoming)
Scholars continue to debate whether public opinion in democracies influences the foreign policy preferences of their leaders. We intervene into this literature through a survey experiment in which we asked 101 British members of Parliament (MPs) for their views about the United Kingdom’s military presence in the South China Sea. Based on random assignment, some of the MPs received information from a public opinion poll about this issue. MPs who received the polling information, compared with those who did not, voiced opinions closer to those of the public. This finding advances the state of knowledge because we use causally identified evidence and employ a realistic research design (we surveyed policy makers of a global power using real public opinion data about an active policy issue). Our study suggests that leaders respond to public opinion, which has implications for theories about democratic responsiveness and the impact of domestic audiences on foreign policy.