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Jihyeon Bae Researches Public Opinion in Vietnam on International Laws and Authoritarianism

Jihyeon Bae presents during the “Bergen Law and Social Transformation” conference.

October 4, 2023

With much gratitude to the Peter May and Jamie Mayerfeld research grant, I was able to conduct the empirical part of my dissertation. Over the spring and summer quarters, I fully developed survey experiments with a local public opinion poll company in Vietnam. My dissertation introduced a theoretical framework about international laws written by a group of authoritarian state leaders, which I refer to as “Authoritarian International Law.” Existing work shows that ratifying treaties indeed contributes to states’ commitment by domestic adjustments. The main mechanism studied so far has been a change in public opinion in favor of international legal norms and consequent compliance pull. International law can shape public preferences over policies. What if those international laws were written by dictators? This question speaks to the foundational understanding of international law in that it tests whether it is the message or the messengers that give legitimacy to international law. I developed a hypothesis that citizens would not lend legitimacy to international laws when drafters themselves lack trust.

The survey experiment randomly gives information to survey respondents that international law was written by autocracies, not democracies. I created 12 treatment groups and 1 control group, varying different layers of information given to each respondent group. For a statistically meaningful result, each group will be composed of 100 respondents, with a total of 1300 participants. Below is a snapshot of my experiment design. With a generous grant, I was able to develop and schedule a survey with local experts in Vietnam over the summer. We consulted potential sources of confounding variables that are specific to Vietnam and I was able to get help with translating English questionnaires into Vietnamese.

To further test the externalization of my hypothesis, I scheduled another survey in the United States. The purpose of this wave is to test whether citizens living in liberal democratic settings find authoritarian international law less legitimate, compared to Vietnamese citizens. I did not have to hire a survey firm this time, since I do not need any translation and localization specialists. I used Qualtrics to code questionnaires myself, which is ready to be distributed to respondents. The exact same survey vignettes and experiment design is replicated.


Table 1. Snapshot of Survey Experiment Design

Message: International Law Treatments

(No mention)

Sovereignty Human Rights Sovereignty + Human Rights
Messenger: Control
(No mention)
Control   X 2 T1 T2 T3
Regime Type Treatments Democracies  


T4 T5 T6
Non-democracies  X T7 T8 T9
Democracies + Non-democracies  X  T10 T 11   T 12


Lastly, I further presented my survey design at the socio-legal conference hosted in Bergen. I did not use any of the grant money for a trip to Bergen. However, it was a great forum to get feedback from not only legal scholars, but also human rights activists from various backgrounds. Indeed, after conversations with other scholars I decided to revise some parts of my survey in an effort to test whether people often tie authoritarian cooperation with a specific non-Western region.

I am currently at the stage of fine-tuning the survey, which is scheduled to be launched in October, 2023. Several pilot surveys will be conducted with only a small number of respondents in order to test whether the treatment is effective. Empirical results will be a pivotal part of my dissertation project. Even if I get the null result that shows people do not find any difference between international laws by authoritarians and democracies, that would still be a promising and meaningful contribution to the field. This work is one of the few international law research projects that explores citizen opinion outside the United States, which is meaningful for bringing more scholarly attention to the Asian region.