The multiple effects of casualties on public support for war: An experimental approach

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Public support for a conflict is not a blank check. Combat provides information people use to update their expectations about the outcome, direction, value, and cost of a war. Critical are fatalitiesthe most salient costs of conflict. I develop a rational expectations theory in which both increasing recent casualties and rising casualty trends lead to decreased support. Traditional studies neither recognize nor provide a method for untangling these multiple influences. I conduct six experiments, three on the Iraq War (two with national, representative samples) and three with a new type of panel experiment design on hypothetical military interventions. The results of hazard and ordered logit analyses of almost 3,000 subjects support a rational expectations theory linking recent casualties, casualty trends, and their interaction to wartime approval. I also examine the effects of the probability of victory, information levels, and individual characteristics on the support for war, and contrast results from representative and convenience samples.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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