Cheap talk or policy lock? Nationalist frames and sympathetic audience costs in international territorial disputes

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Failure by democratic states to resolve protracted international territorial disputes has often been traced to domestic politics. In seeking advantages at the bargaining table and to limit vulnerability versus domestic challengers, democratic leaders may assert hardline territorial demands to mobilize support from sympathetic publics. By staking their political credibility on such claims, they may become locked into extreme policy positions which render compromise untenable. To what extent, however, does expressed support by sympathetic publics actually imply audience costs for reneging? This paper argues that sympathetic publics’ demands for policy follow-through on revisionist territorial claims depend upon how they are framed. Building on the existing audience cost literature, it demonstrates that tangibly salient frames highlighting national security threats are more likely to consistently move sympathetic publics to demand policy redress than intangibly salient frames asserting national rights to defend heritage or cross-border kin. It does so using comparative survey experiments in Israel and Serbia – two democratic states with disputed international boundaries and strong domestic nationalist sentiment, but whose geopolitical contexts are dissimilarly conducive to territorial revisionism. Results contribute to a refined understanding of how domestic attitudes toward nationalist claims impact international conflict processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-355
Number of pages20
JournalTerritory, Politics, Governance
Issue number3
StatePublished - 26 May 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Regional Studies Association.


  • Israel
  • Serbia
  • audience costs
  • framing
  • issue salience
  • territorial disputes


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