I develop a theory of wartime public opinion that identifies different types of casualty information and the varied roles they play. These roles include Primary Casualty Information (e.g., monthly casualties), which directly influences opinion; Contextual Casualty Information (e.g., enemy casualties), which mitigates the effect of primary casualties; and two new concepts, Casualty Uncertainty, the inability of individuals to infer casualty patterns, and Secondary Casualty Information, which represents alternative cost information. I theorize that when casualty uncertainty is low, and casualty patterns are clear, individuals rely on primary casualty information for evaluating a conflict. As uncertainty increases, however, and the picture painted by primary casualty data becomes increasingly opaque, individuals employ secondary casualty information to evaluate costs. I use the reporting of female casualties to represent an example of secondary casualty information. If casualty uncertainty is low, I anticipate that the existence of female casualties should have little influence on public attitudes. If casualty uncertainty is high, however, the reporting of female casualties will exert a negative effect on public support of the conflict. An experimental study finds strong support for these arguments. I examine how the results contribute to our understanding of wartime public support, women in combat, and the Iraq War.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Economics and Econometrics
- Political Science and International Relations