Attitudes on Foreign and Security Policy in the U.S. and Germany: A Comparison at the Mass and Elite Level

Research question/goal: 

The project investigated attitudes on foreign and security policy in the United States and Germany. It shed light on how citizens in the U.S. and Germany have responded to the changes in the international system and foreign affairs since 1989/90. In particular, the project addressed the controversial issue if and how the two countries have drifted apart with regard to citizens’ foreign and security policy orientations as a reaction to international events and elite behaviour.

To answer these questions the project acquired and processed 130 relevant surveys conducted between 1974 and 2012. Based on this comprehensive data pool we have carried out secondary data analyses to describe and explain the attitudes on foreign and security policy in a comparative and longitudinal perspective. Two original data sets on German public opinion were collected to address specific theoretical questions impossible to answer with available data. First, the Bamberg Center for Empirical Studies (BACES) conducted 1,162 telephone interviews in October and November, 2010. Second, the project team proposed batteries of foreign and security policy items that were accepted for inclusion in Online Tracking T14 in the framework of the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES). In this online survey 1,154 interviews were completed in Mai and June, 2011. Both data sets are available through the data archive of GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

The analyses reveal transatlantic disagreement over core foreign policy postures, particularly the use of military force. During the whole time period under consideration U.S. citizens were more willing to deploy troops to achieve political ends than German citizens. A somewhat less distinct gap in multilateral postures existed with U.S. citizens showing stronger support for unilateral actions. These core postures were powerful determinants of citizens’ attitudes on both sides of the Atlantic. Differences in elite framing of specific issues led to divergence in the formation of public attitudes towards these policy issues. Furthermore, elite behaviour determined the influence of postures on transatlantic relations.

Fact sheet

2010 to 2015
Data Sources: 
Survey data
Geographic Space: 
USA, Germany



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Rattinger, Hans, Harald Schoen, Fabian Endres, Sebastian Jungkunz, Matthias Mader and Jana Pötzschke (2016): Old Friends in Troubled Waters: Policy Principles, Elites, and U.S.-German Relations at the Citizen Level After the Cold War. Baden-Baden: Nomos. [Studien zur Wahl- und Einstellungsforschung; 30] more
Biehl, Heiko, and Harald Schoen (Eds.) (2015): Sicherheitspolitik und Streitkräfte im Urteil der Bürger: Theorien, Methoden, Befunde. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. [Schriftenreihe des Sozialwissenschaftlichen Instituts der Bundeswehr; 15] more