Wither Elites? The Role of Elite Credibility and Knowledge in Public Perceptions of Foreign Policy

16 February 2021, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Existing theories of foreign policy opinion formation tend to treat elites as a black-box category for members of the non-public. This misses important nuances in public perceptions of elites. We argue that elite vocation serves as an important source cue, signaling elite access to information and elite knowledge that can be brought to bear on that information. We use a survey experiment to evaluate our hypotheses comparing four types of elites: elected officials, academics, career-professionals, and members of the media. We find that, even accounting for partisanship, people still evaluate elites as knowledgeable and credible. There are also important differences in public perceptions of elites that should be accounted for in our theories of opinion formation. These findings have important implications for the en-vogue death of expertise argument as well as research on public perceptions of foreign policy and public opinion formation.


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