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The Salience of Salience in International Relations

Essays and Interviews
Amitai Etzioni

Salience is defined as the relative importance or significance that an actor ascribes to a given issue.” A considerable number of studies of public opinion about international issues, albeit far from the majority, do study differences in the salience the public attributes to various issues. By contrast, studies of foreign policymaking often ignore salience differentials. As Paul Diehl puts it, “little consideration is given to the issues or their salience in a dispute between states.” This article reviews the reasons for this neglect and presents three short case studies to illustrate the ill effects of overlooking the importance and effects of salience. 

SALIENCE IN PUBLIC OPINION STUDIES

The following example illustrates the importance of including issue salience in studies of public preferences. According to an October 2015 Gallup poll, 26 percent of U.S. voters stated that they would “only vote for a candidate who share[d their] views on gun control.” A national poll conducted in February 2012 found that 29 percent of U.S. voters would not vote for a candidate who disagreed with them on the subject of abortion access, even if the candidate agreed with them on all other issues.