Consensus reshaped: Views of American mass public, mass communicators, and political leaders on foreign policy goals

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Henry Schulte


Public opinion, Vietnam War, Foreign policy, American mass public

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


Many researchers conclude that the Vietnam War shattered a general consensus on foreign policy based on the Cold War ideologies and characterized by an acquiescent mass public and a cooperative press. From the perspective of democratic political communication, this dissertation explores the conceptual patterns of the general public, mass communicators, and political leaders in regard to foreign policy in the post-Vietnam War period and the implications of these conceptual patterns for their attitudinal interaction.

The analysis of the dissertation attempts a multiperspective approach--combining empirical analysis with examination from historical and cultural perspectives. The empirical approach applies secondary analysis to a series of surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations from 1974 to 1986. A new analytical axis is employed to examine the conceptual patterns of the mass public, mass communicators, and political leaders in association with three variables: old ideological views, pragmatic considerations of national interest, and altruistic moral concern.

The findings largely support four hypotheses: (1) Old ideological concepts such as anti-Communism and the promotion of democracy in other countries have comparatively low salience in the public discourse about foreign-policy goals since the end of the Vietnam War. (2) Pragmatic considerations of national interest are preeminent in the discourse on foreign policy goals. (3) The mass public, mass communicators, and political leaders have different conceptions of national interest because of their different levels of political sophistication; mass communicators and political leaders have similar conceptions which stress more the international interdependency than do the conceptions of the general public which are related to more concrete and parochial interests. (4) Altruistic moral concerns are of lesser importance compared with the realistic and pragmatic national interest in thinking about foreign policy goals.

These conceptual patterns suggest that the attitudinal interaction in the foreign policy-making process has the tendency to become downward orientation--initiated by the government and transmitted by the mass media--of the elite views about national interest, to the exclusion of deliberation by the general public. A new consensus seems to be taking shape on the basis of such orientation.


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