The Benefit of the Doubt: Testing an Informational Theory of the Rally Effect

Journal article

Colaresi, Michael (2007) The Benefit of the Doubt: Testing an Informational Theory of the Rally Effect, International Organization 61 (1): 99–143.

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In this article I investigate the apparent tension between liberal theories that highlight the foreign policy benefits of domestic accountability and the observation that the public tends to reflexively support a leader during an international crisis. Previous theories of the process by which the public rallies around their leader tend to highlight the emotional and automatic nature of citizens' responses to threats. Using a simple signaling model, I show that the political and operational circumstances that increase the probability of post hoc verification and punishment for privately motivated policy enhance the credibility of a leader's choices and transmit information on the benefits of action to the public. I derive several observable hypotheses from the informational model, linking the costliness of the signal, the presences of divided government, election years, active term limits, political insecurity, changes in freedom of information laws, and trust in government to the size of the rally in the United States. A battery of empirical tests offer strong support for the informational model and suggest that a public rally is a rational response to numerous international crisis circumstances. Observing a rally need not imply an emotional or irrational public.The author would like to thank Eric Chang, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Henk Goemans, Burt Monroe, Joachim Rennstich, Ken Bickers, Steve Chan, Tom Hammond, and Brian Silver for comments and constructive criticism. Three reviewers and the editorial staff at IO also deserve considerable thanks for contributing to the coherence of the article. As always, the remaining faults solely reflect the faults of the author.

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