Snap Poll: The View from the Ivory Tower

Nearly a thousand scholars weigh in on Ukraine vs. Russia, trusting Syria, and how the Pentagon manages its money.

In partnership with Foreign Policy, we are pleased to present the inaugural Snap Poll of the Teaching, Research, and International Policy (TRIP) Project at the College of William & Mary (of the Ivory Tower Index), which asks international relations scholars for their views on the three hot-button issues du jour. We posed a combination of questions and hypotheticals about Syria and the disposal of its chemical weapons; the ongoing turmoil in Ukraine; and the proposed cuts to the U.S. defense budget. The idea behind a snap poll is, in the midst of breaking news, to take a real-time picture of the reactions and thoughts of a distinct group — in this case academics, specifically international relations (IR) scholars. Unlike longer, more traditional surveys, a snap poll quickly captures the reactions to contemporary issues in the immediate aftermath of an international crisis while policy debate is still very much ongoing. The short timeframe allows the survey’s results to become part of the public and policy discourse, even as an issue continues to evolve. 

For this TRIP Snap Poll — the first in a series hosted here on FP — we surveyed all IR scholars who are employed at a U.S. university in a political science department or policy school and who teach or conduct research on issues that cross international borders. (All told, we identified 2,805 individuals who fit these criteria.) The Snap Poll was open for a total of 75 hours — from 9 p.m., Feb. 24 to 11:59 p.m., Feb. 27. Of those invited to participate in this first survey, 909 scholars responded to our nine questions — a response rate of more than 30 percent. The characteristics of participants — such as gender, professional rank, university type, and university rankingare broadly representative of the discipline as a whole.  

TRIP Snap Polls include questions about policy preferences, anticipated policy effectiveness, expected outcomes of international crises or negotiations, as well as questions that hopefully illustrate the differences as well as the similarities between the scholarly take on affairs and public opinion. In this survey, we asked scholars if the United States spends too much, too little, or just the right amount on defense. The contrast between scholarly and public opinion on this issue is stark — just 5.4 percent of IR scholars believe that the United States is spending "too little" on defense, whereas Gallup recently found that this figure stands at 28 percent among the U.S. public.

In addition, we asked participants to predict the outcomes of pressing conflicts — will the Syrian regime deliver on its commitments, what Ukraine will look like six months from now, and whether Russia would intervene militarily in Ukraine. (On this last question, we didn’t have to wait for the survey to close to find out whether our earliest respondents were correct — along with much of the world, the IR scholarly community was surprised by Russia’s heavy hand in Ukraine. Only a small minority of respondents (14 percent) correctly predicted Russian actions, while a majority (57.5 percent) said that Russia would not intervene militarily.)

By providing real-time, systematic estimates of academic opinion on contemporary global policy and politics, TRIP Snap Polls add a new and much-needed voice to the fast-paced dialogue of news analysis by communicating scholars’ views to policymakers and the public and bridging the gap between the ivory tower and the Beltway.

TRIP Snap Polls are conducted with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Click here for complete results.


In September 2013 the United States and Russia agreed to a framework under which Syria would relinquish its chemical weapons. According to the agreed framework these weapons would be destroyed under the supervision of international inspectors by June 30, 2014. Do you believe that Syria will fulfill its obligations under the agreement by the June deadline?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, do you believe the United States will use military force against Syria?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, would you support the use of military force by the United States against Syrian government forces?

If Syria fails to comply with this agreement by June 30, 2014, which of the following U.S. foreign policy options would you support?

Six months from now, which of the following do you believe will best describe the political situation in Ukraine?

Did the recent international attention focused on the Olympics restrain Russia from becoming more directly involved in the political crisis in Ukraine?

Will Russian military forces intervene in response to the political crisis in Ukraine?

Do you think the United States is spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on defense?

On Monday Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel proposed a new defense budget, which includes an overall reduction and a substantial reprioritization of spending. On balance, these changes would…

Daniel Maliniak is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of California, San Diego.

Susan Peterson is the Wendy and Emery Reves professor of government and international relations and the chair of the Department of Government at the College of William & Mary.

Ryan Powers is an assistant professor of international affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Twitter: @rmpowers

Michael J. Tierney is the George and Mary Hylton professor of international relations and director of the Global Research Institute at the College of William & Mary. Twitter: @MikeTierneyIR