DONDENA Seminar - Stefanie Walter

Stefanie Walter
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Acting Tough or Caving in? Balancing reputational and material concerns when responding to non-cooperative behavior

“Acting Tough or Caving in? Balancing reputational and material concerns when responding to non-cooperative behavior”

SPEAKER: Stefanie Walter (University of Zurich)


In situations where other states behave non-cooperatively, governments need to decide whether to give in or take a tough stance against this behavior. Even though taking a tough stance tends to be materially costly, governments have incentives to sanction and not accommodate non-cooperative behavior for reputational reasons. However, bringing voters on board with this approach can be challenging. This paper examines how framing this trade-off between the material benefits of cooperation and reputational considerations influences the extent to which citizens are willing to support a tough and materially costly response. Using survey experiments embedded in real-life contexts from 28 countries, it examines how voters respond to different frames across three types of non-cooperative behavior: a) cherry-picking attempts (here: British and Swiss attempts to obtain privileged access to the EU's Single market), b) serious violations of international law (here: Russia's invasion in Ukraine) and c) coercive bargaining in international negotiations (here: Turkey's veto of Finnish and Swedish NATO membership, EU withholding of funds from Hungary until it implements legal reforms). Across all cases, the experiments show that highlighting the reputational risks associated with accommodation tends to make voters less willing, and highlighting the material consequences of non-accommodation more willing, to compromise. Dilemma situations, in contrast, are difficult, though often reputational concerns dominate. Overall, the paper shows that voters understand strategic foreign policy considerations and care about their country’s reputation beyond the security realm.


Stefanie Walter is full professor for international relations and political economy at the Department of Political Science (IPZ) at the University of Zurich. She studied public policy and economics in Konstanz, Montréal, and Barcelona and graduated from ETH Zurich in 2007 with a PhD in Political Science and a dissertation on the political economy of currency crises in 2007. In 2008-09 Stefanie held a Fritz-Thyssen-Fellowship at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University and then joined the department of political science at the University of Heidelberg as Junior Professor for International and Comparative Political Economy. She has been working at the University of Zurich's institute for political science (IPZ) since 2013. Her research concentrates on the fields of international and comparative political economy, with a particular focus on distributional conflicts, political preferences and economic policy outcomes related to globalization, European integration, and financial crises. Current projects examine the mass politics of disintegration, Brexit, and the backlash against globalization. Her work has been published by outlets such as American Journal of Political Science, Annual Review of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, Comparative Political Studies, European Union Politics, International Organization, International Studies Quarterly, and Oxford University Press.


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