The effects of generalized social trust on the conflict management behavior of democracies
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How does public opinion influence the conflict management behavior of democracies? Previous research about conflict management suffers from two major weaknesses. First, extant studies either fail to explicitly address the role of public opinion or they treat it as static – a variable that is relatively constant across cases with similar profiles. This conceptualization however, does not accurately describe public attitudes about many inter-democratic border disputes. Second, much of the existing literature on conflict management examines behavioral differences between democracies and other types of countries. This research focus has come at the expense of scholarship that assesses differences among democratic regimes. This dissertation remedies some of these weaknesses. I make three major contributions. First, I demonstrate that social trust influences public opinion about border disputes. Using original survey data, I show that high-trust individuals support different kinds of foreign policies in the context of border disputes than low-trust individuals. Building on these insights, I then argue that systematic cross-national variations in social trust levels affect the overall structure of public opinion as well as the external behavior of democracies. In particular, my second contribution is an examination of the impact of trust on conflict management venue choice: I show that democracies with high-trusting general populations are more likely to rely on international legal rulings since their governments face less public resistance to a transfer of national sovereignty in a crucial domain of foreign policy. Finally, the third empirical chapter focuses on differences in the propensity of two disputants to sign substantive agreements at the end of a peaceful settlement attempt. I demonstrate that trust increases the probability that a given episode between two democracies ends successfully. I argue that this is because leaders in high-trust democracies can afford to pursue more conciliatory foreign policies and make concessions to international opponents. These findings add to a growing literature in the social sciences about the consequences of social trust.