Limits of engagement? The sunshine policy, nuclear tests, and South Korean views of North Korea 1995–2013
Can positive domestic messages generated by a foreign policy of engagement toward another country change public views regarding that state? How resistant are such changes to events that contradict the positive messages? I argue that while positive government messages about an adversary can significantly improve public opinion, highly consequential foreign policy events that contradict the messages influence public opinion at the cost of elites’ ability to shape it through their messages. Such differing effects can lead to a polarization of opinion when the content of the messages and the nature of events diverge from each other. Leveraging the unpredictability of North Korea’s foreign policy behavior, the South Korean government’s sustained policy of engagement toward it during the years 1998–2007, and North Korea’s first two nuclear tests to examine the relative impact of consequential foreign policy events and elite messages on public opinion, I find strong evidence consistent with this argument.
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