THE QUALITY AND IMPACT OF PUBLIC OPINION IN A VULNERABLE DEMOCRACY: THE TAIWANESE CASE
thesisposted on 22.07.2021, 03:02 by Kuan-Sheng WuKuan-Sheng Wu
This dissertation focuses on the intersection of foreign policy, public opinion, and domestic politics in Taiwan, a relatively young democracy under persistent threat. It examines the influence of a variety of internal political forces on Taiwanese foreign policy and employs various methodologies. The dissertation contributes to the scant literature of weak state political behavior in political science. It sheds light on the nuances missing in research that focuses on major powers. Substantively, it integrates a variety of subfields including international relations, public opinion, public support for war, and Taiwan studies.
Drawing from original surveys of activists and elites, the first study examines how public opinion on the Sunflower Movement, a nationwide movement led mostly by students, shaped the decisions of political leaders who were negotiating a major trade pact with China. The central finding from this case is that in some circumstances, public opinion could outweigh the importance of political factors such as elite rivalry in influencing the decision-making of political elites. The second study analyzes mass opinions regarding a hypothetical armed conflict with China. I find that generations, neglected in existing war support literature, play an essential role in shaping popular support for this conflict. Finally, I develop a novel theory of diversionary foreign policy pursued by asymmetrically weak states. Here, I show how Taiwanese leaders use aggressive foreign policy toward China to divert from domestic problems and garner public support. The major theoretical claims are that weak state leaders, for various reasons, often would use different types of diversionary tactics compared to their counterparts in major powers.