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

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible



This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, 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.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision as and where necessary.

There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent terms.

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).

Indicative reading

A full bibliography accompanies the course and the teacher will advise on reading. M Small, Democracy and Diplomacy (1996); ); S Casey, When Soldiers Fall (2014); 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)O R Holsti, Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy (1996).


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

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2020/21: 29

Average class size 2020/21: 15

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information