Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter August 8, 2017

International Adjudication and Public Opinion in Territorial Disputes: Evidence from a Survey Experiment Using Amazon Mechanical Turk

  • Florian Justwan EMAIL logo and Sarah K. Fisher


This article explores the effects of international adjudication on individual-level attitudes in territorial disputes. In particular, we investigate the micro-foundations for the argument that international court rulings provide political cover for governments settling disputes through unpopular territorial concessions. In an online survey conducted for this project, 494 Indian respondents were confronted with a fictitious foreign policy scenario. A randomized experiment embedded in the survey provides four major findings. First, international adjudication makes citizens more willing to support concessions in border disputes. Second, international courts influence the perceived fairness of comprosmise solutions. Third, legal conflict management mediates the emotional fallout of territorial concessions. Finally, we do not find any evidence for the claim that international adjudication reduces individual-level concerns over commitment problems. By focusing on individual-level data, this article provides an important contribution to the literature on international conflict management.


The Foreign Policy Scenario

Below is the foreign policy scenario presented to survey respondents:

In this section, we will present to you a hypothetical foreign policy scenario involving India and [China/Pakistan]. In order to ensure the scientific validity of this study, the following scenario will remain abstract and not involve any real-world border dispute. After describing the situation, we will ask you for your opinion about a few policy options

  • Five years ago, the United Kingdom turned over three small islands in the Bay of Bengal to India.

  • These islands are roughly equal in size and uninhabited.

  • Before the United Kingdom announced its decision to relinquish the islands, both India and [China/Pakistan] claimed that the islands were rightfully theirs.

  • [China/Pakistan] was outraged when the United Kingdom announced its decision to hand over the islands to India.

  • [China/Pakistan] has now officially asked India to give up control over all three islands and to hand them over to [China/Pakistan].

Survey Questions

Dependent Variable: Support for Concessions

After a few weeks of internal deliberations, the Indian government has decided to give up two of the three islands to [China/ Pakistan] in order to resolve the dispute To what extent do you approve or disapprove of the Indian government’s decision to hand over two of the three islands to [China/Pakistan]?


An international court has ruled that India has to give up two of the three islands to [China/Pakistan]. After receiving this verdict, the Indian government has decided to give up two of the three islands to [China/Pakistan] in order to resolve the dispute. To what extent do you approve or disapprove of the Indian government’s decision to hand over two of the three islands to [China/Pakistan] following the ruling of the court?

  • Strongly disapprove

  • Somewhat disapprove

  • Neither approve nor disapprove

  • Somewhat approve

  • Strongly approve

Dependent Variables: Perceived Fairness

What is the fairest solution to this dispute?

  • India should keep all three islands.

  • India should give all three islands to [China/Pakistan].

  • India should keep two islands and give one island to [China/Pakistan].

  • India should keep one island and give two islands to [China/Pakistan].

  • None of those options.

  • I don’t know.

Dependent Variables: Likely Consequences of Concessions

What are the likely consequences of India’s decision to give up two of the three islands to [China/Pakistan]? Please tell me how likely each of these consequences is:

Very unlikelySomewhat unlikelyNeither likely not unlikelySomewhat likelyVery likely
[China/Pakistan] will feel emboldened and make further territorial demands12345
You will feel anger following this decision.12345
You will consider it to be a national embarrassment.12345

General Demographics

Age: In what year were you born?

Gender: Are you male or female?

  • Male

  • Female

Education: What is the highest level of education that you have received? 

  • No formal education.

  • Incomplete Primary School.

  • Complete Primary School.

  • Incomplete Secondary School: technical/vocational type.

  • Complete Secondary School: technical/vocational type.

  • Incomplete Secondary School: university-preparatory type.

  • Complete Secondary School: university-preparatory type.

  • Some University-Level Education, without degree.

  • University-Level Education, with degree.

Income: How do you feel about your income these days? Which of the following statements comes closest to how you feel?

  • I am living comfortably on my present income.

  • I am coping on my present income.

  • I am finding it difficult on my present income.

  • I cannot survive on my present income.

Ideology: In politics people sometimes talk of “left” and “right.” Where would you place yourself on this scale, where 0 means the left and 10 means the right?

01234567891088 Don’t know

Interest in Politics: Some people seem to follow what is going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. How about you? How frequently do you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs?

  1. Most of the Time.

  2. Some of the Time.

  3. Only Now and Then.

  4. Hardly at All.

  5. Never.

Voting History: In talking to people about elections, we often find that a lot of people were not able to vote because they weren’t registered, they were sick, or they just didn’t have time. How about the parliamentary elections in 2014? Did you vote for a candidate during these elections?

  1. Yes, I voted.

  2. No, I didn’t vote.

  3. I don’t remember.

Filter Question 1: Research in decision making shows that people, when making decisions and answering questions, prefer not to pay attention and minimize their effort as much as possible. Some studies show that over 50% of people don’t carefully read questions. If you are reading this question and have read all the other questions, please select the box marked “other.” Do not select “foreign policy,” “domestic politics,” or “conflict management.” Thank you for participating and taking the time to read through the questions carefully! What is this study about?

  1. Domestic Politics

  2. Foreign policy

  3. Conflict Management

  4. Other

Filter Question 2: How are you feeling right now? Although we would like to know how you are feeling, please select the second option below so we know you are paying attention.

  1. Happy

  2. Sad

  3. Anxious

  4. Other

Filter Question 3: While watching television, have you ever had a fatal heart attack?

  1. Often

  2. Some of the time

  3. Only now and then

  4. Hardly at all

  5. Never

Table 4:

Robustness checks – controlling for treatment and demographics (China).

(Ordered) Logistic RegressionModel A1

Model A2


Model A3

Model A4


Model A5

Model A6

Treatment (Court-Condition = 1)1.092**












Gender (Male 1/0)−0.401






























Religion (Hindu = 1)0.214






Interest in Politics0.273*






Trust in China−0.915**






Threat Perception (China)−0.130






Constant1.726 (1.802)3.805 (1.931)
Cut Point 1−4.200 (1.454)0.181 (1.518)−1.304 (1.421)−0.576 (1.452)
Cut Point 2−2.562 (1.439)1.662 (1.503)−0.203 (1.410)1.121 (1.444)
Cut Point 3−2.101 (1.437)2.645 (1.502)1.206 (1.408)2.230 (1.446)
Cut Point 40.179 (1.445)4.449 (1.520)2.606 (1.418)4.000 (1.461)
Number of Observations241241214240241241
  1. *p ≤ 0.05, **p ≤ 0.01 in a one-tailed test.

Table 5:

Robustness checks – controlling for treatment and demographics (Pakistan).

(Ordered) Logistic RegressionModel A7

Model A8


Model A9

Model A10


Model A11

Model A12

Treatment (Court-Condition = 1)0.969**












Gender (Male 1/0)−0.406






























Religion (Hindu = 1)−0.728






Interest in Politics−0.014






Trust in Pakistan−0.639**






Threat Perception (Pakistan)−0.238






Constant0.394 (2.190)0.527 (2.201)
Cut Point 1−3.492 (1.700)−0.092 (1.545)0.774 (1.557)−1.315 (1.597)
Cut Point 2−2.169 (1.690)1.214 (1.531)1.946 (1.553)0.032 (1.589)
Cut Point 3−1.687 (1.688)2.010 (1.535)2.960 (1.561)0.929 (1.588)
Cut Point 40.968 (1.692)3.677 (1.552)4.196 (1.576)2.345 (1.592)
Number of Observations237237205237235235
  1. *p ≤ 0.05, **p ≤ 0.01 in a one-tailed test.


Albin, C. (2003). Negotiating international cooperation: Global public goods and fairness. Review of International Studies, 29(3), 365–385.10.1017/S0260210503003656Search in Google Scholar

Allee, T. L. & Huth, P. (2006a). Legitimizing dispute settlement: International legal rulings as domestic political cover. American Political Science Review, 100(2), 219–234.10.1017/S0003055406062125Search in Google Scholar

Allee, T. L. & Huth, P. (2006b). The pursuit of legal settlements to territorial disputes. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 23(4), 285–307.10.1080/07388940600972644Search in Google Scholar

Baghel, R. & Nüsser, M. (2015). Securing the heights: The vertical dimension of the Siachen conflict between India and Pakistan in the Eastern Karakoram. Political Geography, 48(1), 24–36.10.1016/j.polgeo.2015.05.001Search in Google Scholar

Bahree, M. (2009). Showdown on the subcontinent. World Policy Journal, 26(3), 41–49.10.1162/wopj.2009.26.3.41Search in Google Scholar

Bandyopadhyaya, J. (2003). The making of India’s foreign policy: Determinants, institutions, processes, and personalities. New Delhi: Allied Publishers.Search in Google Scholar

Basrur, R. M. (2008). South Asia’s cold war: Nuclear weapons and conflict in comparative perspective. London, New York: Routledge.10.4324/9780203928233Search in Google Scholar

Beardsley, K. & Lo, N. (2014). Third-party conflict management and the willingness to make concessions. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 58(2), 363–392.10.1177/0022002712467932Search in Google Scholar

Bercovitch, J. & Houston, A. (2000). Why do they do it like this? An analysis of the factors influencing mediation behavior in international conflicts. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 44(2), 170–202.10.1177/0022002700044002002Search in Google Scholar

Berinsky, A. J., Huber, G. A. & Lenz, G. S. (2012). Evaluating online labor markets for experimental research:’s Mechanical Turk. Political Analysis, 20(3), 351–368.10.1093/pan/mpr057Search in Google Scholar

Bueno de Mesquita, B., Morrow, J. D., Siverson, R. M. & Smith, A. (2004). Testing novel implications from the selectorate theory of war. World Politics, 56(2), 363–388.10.1353/wp.2004.0017Search in Google Scholar

Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T. & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s mechanical turk: a new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–5.10.1177/1745691610393980Search in Google Scholar

Ganguly, S., Hellwig, T. & Thompson, W. R. (2017). The foreign policy attitudes of Indian elites: Variance, structure, and common denominators. Foreign Policy Analysis, 13(2), 416–438.10.1093/fpa/orw036Search in Google Scholar

Gent, S. & Shannon, M. (2010). The effectiveness of international arbitration and adjudication: Getting into a bind. Journal of Politics, 72(2), 366–380.10.1017/S0022381609990788Search in Google Scholar

Gent, S. & Shannon, M. (2011a). Bias and the effectiveness of third-party conflict management mechanisms. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 28(2), 124–144.10.1177/0738894210396774Search in Google Scholar

Gent, S. & Shannon, M. (2011b). Decision control and the pursuit of binding conflict management: Choosing the ties that bind. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 55(5), 1–25.10.1177/0022002711408012Search in Google Scholar

Gibler, D. M., Hutchison, M. L. & Miller, S. V. (2012). Individual identity attachments and international conflict: The importance of territorial threat. Comparative Political Studies, 45(12), 1655–1683.10.1177/0010414012463899Search in Google Scholar

Global Times. (2012). Considered strategy needed in Diaoyu spat. Global Times online, . accessed August 20, 2016.Search in Google Scholar

Goodman, J. K., Cryder, C. E. & Cheema, A. (2013). Data collection in a flat world: The strengths and weaknesses of mechanical turk samples. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 26(3), 213–224.10.1002/bdm.1753Search in Google Scholar

Hensel, P. R., Mitchell, S. M., Sowers, T. E. & Thyne, C. L. (2008). Bones of contention. comparing territorial, maritime, and river issues. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 52(1), 117–143.10.1177/0022002707310425Search in Google Scholar

Horton, J., Rand, D. G. & Zeckhauser, R. J. (2011). The online laboratory: Conducting experiments in a real labor market. Experimental Economics, 14(3), 399–425.10.3386/w15961Search in Google Scholar

Hutchison, M. L. (2011). Territorial threat and the decline of political trust in Africa: A multilevel analysis. Polity, 43(4), 432–461.10.1057/pol.2011.3Search in Google Scholar

Huth, P. K. & Allee, T. L. (2002). The democratic peace and territorial conflict in the twentieth century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511491405Search in Google Scholar

Huth, P., Croco, S. & Appel, B. (2011). Does international law promote the peaceful settlement of international disputes? Evidence from the study of territorial conflicts since 1945. American Political Science Review, 105(2), 415–436.10.1017/S0003055411000062Search in Google Scholar

Johns, R. & Davies, G. A. (2012). Democratic peace or clash of civilizations? Target states and support for war in Britian and the United States. The Journal of Politics, 74(4), 1038–1052.10.1017/S0022381612000643Search in Google Scholar

Justwan, F. (2017). Trusting publics: The impact of generalized social trust on the decision to pursue binding conflict management. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 61(3), 590–614.10.1177/0022002715590879Search in Google Scholar

Kapstein, E. B. (2008). Fairness considerations in world politics: Lessons from international trade negotiations. Political Science Quarterly, 123(2), 229–245.10.1002/j.1538-165X.2008.tb00623.xSearch in Google Scholar

Karim, S. M. (2014). Litigating law of the sea disputes using UNCLOS dispute settlement system. Klien, N. (Ed.), Litigating international law disputes: Weighing the options (pp. 260–284). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139062008.016Search in Google Scholar

Levy, J. S., McKoy, M. K., Poast, P. & Wallace, G. P. R. (2015). Backing out or backing in? Commitment and consistency in audience costs theory. American Journal of Political Science, 59(4), 988–1001.10.1111/ajps.12197Search in Google Scholar

Mason, W. & Suri, S. (2012). Conducting behavioral research on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Behavioral Research, 44(1), 1–23.10.3758/s13428-011-0124-6Search in Google Scholar

Melin, M. M. & Grigorescu, A. (2014). Dispute resolution and escalation in a world of entangled territorial claims. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 58(6), 1085–1109.10.1177/0022002713492639Search in Google Scholar

Miller, S. V. (forthcoming). Individual-level expectations of executive authority under territorial threat. Conflict Management and Peace Science. Available from: in Google Scholar

Mintz, A. & Geva, N. (1993). Why don’t democracies fight each other? An experimental study. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 37(3), 484–503.10.1177/0022002793037003004Search in Google Scholar

NYT. (2016). China’s Defiance in the South China Sea. New York Times, . accessed August 17, 2016.Search in Google Scholar

Paolacci, G., Chandler, J. & Ipeirotis, P. G. (2010). Running experiments on Amazon mechanical turk. Judgment and Decision Making, 5(5), 411–419.10.1017/S1930297500002205Search in Google Scholar

Powell, E. J. (2015). Islamic law states and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes. International Organization, 69(4), 777–708.10.1093/oso/9780190064631.003.0005Search in Google Scholar

Powell, E. J. & Wiegand, K. (2014). Strategic selection: Political and legal mechanisms of territorial dispute resolution. Journal of Peace Research, 51(3), 361–374.10.1177/0022343313508969Search in Google Scholar

Raghavan, V. R. (2002). Siachen: Conflict without end. New Delhi, New York: Viking.Search in Google Scholar

Raymond, G. A. (1994). Democracies, disputes, and third-party intermediaries. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 38(1), 24–42.10.1177/0022002794038001002Search in Google Scholar

Sanfey, A. G., Rilling, J. K., Aronson, J. A., Nystrom, L. E. & Cohen, J. D. (2003). The neural basis of economic decision-making in the ultimatum game. Science, 300(5626), 1755–1758.10.1126/science.1082976Search in Google Scholar

Senese, P. D. & Vasquez, J. A. (2005). Assessing the steps to war. British Journal of Political Science, 35(4), 607–633.10.1017/S0007123405000323Search in Google Scholar

Shannon, M. (2009). Preventing war and providing the peace? International organizations and the management of territorial disputes. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 26(2), 144–163.10.1177/0738894208101127Search in Google Scholar

Singh, N. (2012). How to tame your dragon: An evaluation of india’s foreign policy toward China. India Review, 11(3), 139–160.10.1080/14736489.2012.705632Search in Google Scholar

Tanaka, S. (2016). The microfoundations of territorial disputes: Evidence from opinion surveys in Japan. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 33(5), 516–538.10.1177/0738894215581330Search in Google Scholar

Times of India. (2015). Govt bows to Congress, tweaks Bangladesh land deal. Times of India online, . accessed March 29, 2017.Search in Google Scholar

Tir, J. (2010). Territorial diversion: Diversionary theory of war and territorial conflict. Journal of Politics, 72(2), 413–425.10.1017/S0022381609990879Search in Google Scholar

Tomz, M. (2007). Domestic audience costs and international relations: An experimental approach. International Organization, 61(4), 821–840.10.1017/S0020818307070282Search in Google Scholar

Tomz, M. & Weeks, J. (2013). Public opinion and the democratic peace. American Political Science Review, 107(4), 849–865.10.1017/S0003055413000488Search in Google Scholar

Wallensteen, P. & Svensson, I. (2014). Talking peace: International mediation in armed conflicts. Journal of Peace Research, 51(2), 315–327.10.1177/0022343313512223Search in Google Scholar

Wiegand, K. E. (2011). Enduring territorial disputes: Strategies of bargaining, coercive diplomacy, and settlement. Athens: University of Georgia Press.Search in Google Scholar

Wiegand, K. & Powell, E. J. (2011). Past experience, quest for the best forum, and peaceful attempts to resolve territorial disputes. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 55(1), 33–59.10.1177/0022002710377168Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2017-8-8

©2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Downloaded on 3.3.2024 from
Scroll to top button