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Public Opinion and Foreign Policy – Does It Matter, and If So, How?

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Associated Colleges of the Midwest have joined together for a yearlong series on Foreign Policy in Practice.

As the Biden administration champions a Foreign Policy for the Middle Class, the first program in the series will consider how the opinions of Americans outside the foreign policy community factor into foreign policy decision making. To what extent does public opinion influence foreign policy decisions, and to what extent should it? How does our foreign policy influence public opinion in return?

Dina Smeltz, senior fellow on public opinion and foreign policy for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and lead for the annual survey of American attitudes towards foreign policy, and James N. Druckman, the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, will join Elizabeth Shackelford, senior fellow on foreign policy, in a conversation that addresses the theory, practice, and history of public opinion’s influence on foreign policy. There will be time for audience Q&A and following the discussion there will be an informal opportunity for participants to network with their ACM peers, discuss careers in foreign policy, and continue the conversation.


About the Speakers

Dina Smeltz

With 25 years of experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys, Dina Smeltz joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs as senior fellow on public opinion and foreign policy in 2012. She oversees the Council's well-known annual survey of American attitudes toward foreign policy and has authored and co-authored many of the analyses based on that work. She also directs the Council's collaboration with Russian, Mexican, Canadian, Australian, and East Asian research organizations. Smeltz has published commentary on public opinion and international issues in The Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, POLITICO, RealClearWorld, Foreign Policy, and the Council's survey blog (Running Numbers).

As the director of research in the Middle East and South Asia division (2001-2007) and analyst/director of the European division (1992-2004) in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research, Smeltz conducted over a hundred surveys in these regions and regularly briefed senior government officials on key research findings.

With a special emphasis on research in post-conflict situations, Smeltz has worked with research teams in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cyprus, Israel-Palestinian Territories, and Iraq (2003-2005), where she was one of the few people on the ground who could accurately report average Iraqis impressions of the post-war situation. Smeltz has consulted for several NGOs and research organizations on projects spanning women's development in Afghanistan, civil society in Egypt, and evaluating voter education efforts in Iraq.

Smeltz has an MA from the University of Michigan and a BS from Pennsylvania State University.

James N. Druckman

James N. Druckman’s research focuses on political preference formation and communication. His recent work examines how citizens make political, economic, and social decisions in various contexts (e.g., settings with multiple competing messages, online information, deliberation). He also researches the relationship between citizens' preferences and public policy, and how political elites make decisions under varying institutional conditions.

Druckman has published more than 100 articles and book chapters in political science, communication, economic, science, and psychology journals. He co-edited the Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science. He has served as editor of the journals Political Psychology and Public Opinion Quarterly as well as the University of Chicago Press's series in American Politics. He currently is the co-Principal Investigator of Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS).

Elizabeth Shackelford

Elizabeth Shackelford joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in January 2021 as senior fellow on US foreign policy. Her analysis, writing, and outreach focus on building awareness and understanding of a "restraint" approach to foreign policy, which seeks to limit the use of military force to the defense of core US national security interests and favors robust diplomatic engagement.

Shackelford was a career diplomat with the US Department of State until December 2017, when she resigned in protest of the Trump administration. Her resignation letter was the first to draw widespread attention to the declining state of diplomacy under Donald Trump. She is the author of The Dissent Channel: American Diplomacy in a Dishonest Age, winner of the 2020 Douglas Dillon Book Award. Using both firsthand and historical observations, The Dissent Channel demonstrates that the crisis in US foreign policy predated recent efforts to sideline the diplomatic corps.

As a Foreign Service Officer, Shackelford served in Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Poland, and Washington, D.C., tracking political and conflict developments, advising Mission and Washington leadership, and advocating for US interests with foreign counterparts. For her work in South Sudan during the outbreak of civil war in 2013, Shackelford received the Barbara Watson Award for Consular Excellence, the Department’s highest honor for consular work.

As a non-resident fellow with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft in 2020, Shackelford conducted research, analysis, and commentary on the costs of a militarized approach to foreign policy and the need for greater accountability in US actions abroad. Prior to joining the State Department, Shackelford was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton where she led USAID projects to assess business environments in developing countries. Shackelford was also an associate with the law firm Covington & Burling, where she focused on international trade law.

Shackelford's op-eds and commentary have been published in numerous outlets including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Slate. Shackelford has a BA from Duke University and a JD from the University of Pittsburgh. Born and raised in Mississippi, Shackelford now resides in Rochester, VT.

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