From wikipedia, I saw the explanation for "audience cost"

The term was popularized in a 1994 academic article by James Fearon where he argued that democracies carry greater audience costs than authoritarian states, which makes them better at signaling their intentions in interstate disputes. It is one of the mechanisms for democratic peace theory

In international relations theory, an audience cost is the electoral penalty a leader incurs from his or her constituency if they escalate a foreign policy crisis and are then seen as backing down. It is one of the mechanisms for democratic peace theory. It is associated with rational choice scholarship in international relations.

The implication of audience costs is that threats issued by leaders (who incur audience costs) against other states are more likely to be seen as credible and thus lead those states to meet the demands of the leader making threats

From this definition, I have some curiosities:

I can not understand why the leader need to resign or step down if they escalate the foreign policy crisis (I also try to find the meaning of "foreign policy crisis" but there is no clear definition so far)

  • 3
    Resigning for policy failures seems to have been more common in previous centuries than it is today.
    – o.m.
    Aug 18 '21 at 5:15
  • @o.m. I am wondering why "escalate the foreign policy crisis" is policy failures ? English is not my mother language so I am not fully understanding this term
    – Louise
    Aug 18 '21 at 5:17
  • 3
    Look at the second part of the sentence, "and are then seen as backing down." Escalation is no failure if one wins. One does not always win.
    – o.m.
    Aug 18 '21 at 5:43
  • 1
    question 2 was cross posted to English Language Learners where it has already been answer. So I've deleted it here.
    – James K
    Aug 18 '21 at 12:11
  • 1
    @ohwilleke, I still think that people used to resign before it came to that, and now they don't.
    – o.m.
    Aug 19 '21 at 3:58

For any politician, autocratic or democratic, the fundamental goal is to have their policies implemented (whether those policies are "free market capitalism" or "10000 pairs of shoes for my wife.)

For democratic politicians, the basic means to having their policies implemented is to win elections.

To win elections, more people must vote for you than for the "other guy".

People will vote for you if you look good (as a leader) and not if you look bad.

So a democratic politician does not want to look bad. Because if you look bad (at leading) people will vote for "the other guy" and you won't get your policies implemented.

One thing that looks bad is making a threat and then backing down. It shows weakness. It means you made a bad decision to make a threat, or you made a weak decision to back down.

A democratic leader doesn't need to resign if they escalate but then back down. However, it shows that they are bad at decision making, and it is more likely that they will lose the next election.

A dictator doesn't have to worry about elections. His power base is probably with the military. He only needs the support of the people with guns.

  • 2
    Even in non-democratic governments, a leader needs people who support him (or her). Those people can be powerful audiences as well, depending upon their inclinations. Few people considered dictators even, truly have unilateral power.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 19 '21 at 2:34

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