American Attitudes Toward the International Criminal Court: Framing Effects, Endorsement Effects, and the Idea of Multilateral Justice

Download data and study materials from OSF

This experiment was fielded as part of a TESS telephone survey. Data and materials for all the studies included on this survey is available here.

Principal investigators:

Beth Simmons

Harvard University



Michael Hiscox

Harvard University



Sample size: 1834

Field period: 10/20/2005- 02/12/2006


In July 1998 over 150 nations reached a historic agreement creating an International Criminal Court (ICC) with jurisdiction – extending across national borders – to prosecute individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and other crimes against humanity. Although the United States had been a strong proponent of the ICC in the past, it did not ratify the treaty. Shortly before he left office, President Clinton signed the treaty, but added that he did not believe it should be ratified in its existing form. The Bush administration subsequently withdrew the United States from the ICC Treaty and began to pressure other nations to enter into Bilateral Immunity Agreements that would exclude U.S. citizens and military personnel from the jurisdiction of the ICC (see Zagaris 2003). The future of the ICC still hangs in the balance.
The ICC presents an opportunity vastly to improve our theoretical understanding of what shapes public opinion toward multilateral institutions and foreign policy positions more generally. We seek to measure not only baseline attitudes toward and knowledge of this institution, but also to plumb what influences opinion formation on this, the most ambitious international judicial institution to date. Our findings will address broader debates in the public opinion/foreign policy literature, including the extent to which the public’s foreign policy attitudes are easily manipulated and the influence of partisan endorsement on such opinions. Our findings on the ICC should be relevant to a range of multilateral projects – from the IMF to the WTO to the UN Security Council. More generally, these results should speak to the depth and malleability of American attitudes toward multilateralism in the twenty-first century.

Experimental Manipulations

The survey we propose is designed to administer treatments that help us understand the effects of isolationist/unilateralist versus multilateralist issue framing, as well as the effect of partisan endorsements of different foreign policy positions, while gathering information on a number of relevant control conditions.
Both groups A and B will be divided into sub-groups which either receive an isolationist/unilateralist anti-ICC prompt (sub-groups A1 and B1), a multilateralist pro-ICC prompt (A2 and B2), both prompts (A3 and B3), or no prompt at all (A4 and B4). The language we have used here is chosen to reflect distinct types of issue framing that are evident in the political discourse: the isolationist/unilateralist prompt is drawn almost verbatim from a 2002 article written by Patrick Buchanan called “World Government Rising;” the multilateralist pro-ICC prompt was drawn from a 1996 article by President Clinton entitle “A Commitment to Human Dignity, Democracy, and Peace.”


Question 1 asks respondents to state how informed they feel regarding the ICC.
Questions 3 and 4 are intended to test the impact of belief change, or persuasion, due to transmission of new information


Please see the proposal document in the "data and study materials" file