Scott Williamson

Department of Political Science

Security or Democracy? US Public Opinion and Support for Autocrats Abroad


My research explores the conditions under which Americans will prioritize support for democracy and human rights in US foreign policy. A large political science literature argues that the American public holds strong pro-democracy preferences in foreign affairs, and research also indicates that such preferences can shape the decisions made by policymakers. Nonetheless, the United States has a long history of openly supporting repressive and authoritarian regimes, particularly in the context of the Cold War and the War on Terror, without facing public opposition. Using experiments in nationally representative surveys, I explore the strength of the public’s pro-democracy and pro-human rights preferences, as well as the extent to which those preferences change when national security concerns become salient. I also consider how willingness to accept the US government’s support for authoritarian regimes varies based on partisan and internationalist orientations.