Philip B. K. Potter, and Matthew A. Baum. "Information, Popular Constraint, and the Democratic Peace." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-015, March 2014.


Politicians and scholars have long argued that democracies are less prone to international conflict, at least with other democracies. However, while there is widespread acceptance of this “law” in international affairs, the theoretical mechanism that drives it remains opaque. We argue that the distinctive behavior of democracies arises from very specific features of their political institutions that can facilitate (or hinder) the transmission of information between leaders and the public. Specifically, popular constraint on executive action relies on robust partisan opposition that can blow the whistle on foreign policy failures, and media institutions that can effectively relay this information to the voting public. Crucially, not all democracies are alike when it comes to these institutions, meaning that the “democratic peace” may not actually apply equally to all. We find support for these propositions in time series, cross-sectional analyses of conflict initiation from 1965 to 2006.