Renshon, Jonathan, Keren Yarhi-Milo, and Joshua D. Kertzer. “Democratic Leaders, Crises and War. Paired Experiments on the Israeli Knesset and Public.” (online paper).
IR theorists have focused in recent years on how and whether regime type affects conflict, and in particular on whether democracies have advantages over other types of states in either “contests of will” or war-fighting. Despite the remarkable amount of attention paid, the inherent limits of observational data – even with improved methods and newly-developed datasets – have prevented the formation of any consensus. We contend that one missing piece of the puzzle is direct evidence on a key aspect of theories of democratic credibility and success: the beliefs of leaders. To address this, we present evidence from a survey experiment fielded on a unique elite sample: current and former members of the Israeli Knesset. From them, we learn that Israeli leaders’ patterns of beliefs accord with some interpretations of bargaining theory: they see democracies as both more likely to back down in a crisis, but also more likely to emerge victorious should a dispute escalate to war. We also field our study on two representative samples of the Israeli Jewish public, giving us leverage to address the question of how similar leaders are to the public they represent, and the mechanisms through which democracy shapes beliefs about crisis behavior and war outcomes. Here, we find support for the notion that (at least in some cases), experiments on \the average citizen” generalize nicely to elites.