Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy, from Roosevelt to Reagan, 1933-89

This information is for the 2013/14 session.


This course is available on the MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Using a range of secondary sources, the course explores the dynamic interaction between presidents, public opinion, and foreign policymaking in order to test a range of common assumptions about the determinants of American foreign policy in the period from 1933 to 1989.  The course explores the interaction between opinion and policy in three periods: First, the Roosevelt era, with emphasis on FDR's response to American isolationism, the media and public attitudes towards Nazi Germany and the Second World War, and the influence of public pressures upon US policy. Second, the period of consensus on the Cold War, examining how Americans viewed the Communist world before, during and after the Korean War, the influence of the atomic bomb upon popular thinking, the limits of dissent in the period of McCarthyism, and the impact of public opinion upon policy-making during the Berlin and Cuban crises. Third, the period when the Cold War consensus broke down, focusing not just on the opposition to the Vietnam war and the new cleavages that emerged within US society but also on the changing nature of the American media and the very different attempts made by Nixon, Carter and Reagan to respond to this new environment.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

22 seminars of two-hours. Students are expected to keep up with readings for the weekly meetings and to participate in the seminar discussions.

Formative coursework

Students are required to produce two 3,000 word essays during the year. There will also be a mock exam (a one-hour timed essay) in the first of the two revision classes in the ST.

Indicative reading

A full bibliography accompanies the course and the teacher will advise on reading. M Small, Democracy and Diplomacy (1996); O R Holsti, Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (1996); S Casey, Cautious Crusade (2001); S Casey, Selling the Korean War (2008); D Foyle, Counting the Public In (1999); R Sobel, The Impact of Public Opinion on US Foreign Policy since Vietnam (2001).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

A three-hour unseen written examination in the ST. A mock examination paper will be distributed to students at the first meeting to familiarise themselves with the structure of the examination. The final examination will count for 100% of the final course assessment.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2012/13: 39

Average class size 2012/13: 13

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information