The diplomacy of Whataboutism and US foreign policy attitudes

Wilfred M. Chow, Dov H. Levin

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review


Does whataboutism work in global affairs? When states face international criticism, they often respond with whataboutism: accusing their critics of similar faults. Despite its prevalence in policy discussions, whataboutism remains an understudied influence strategy. This study investigates how states use whataboutism to shape American public opinion across various international issues. We find, using survey experiments, that whataboutism mitigates the negative impacts of criticism by reducing public approval of US positions and backing for punitive actions. Whataboutist critiques referencing similar, recent misdeeds have more power to shape opinions. However, the identity of the whataboutist state does not significantly affect effectiveness. US counter-messaging often fails to diminish the effects of whataboutism. These results show that whataboutism can be a potent rhetorical tool in international relations and that it warrants greater attention from international relations scholars.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-133
JournalInternational Organization
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2024


  • Whataboutism
  • public diplomacy
  • foreign policy
  • public opinion
  • hypocrisy costs
  • tu quoque


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