Politicians appear to anticipate that the public will hold them accountable for war deaths. Yet, little is known about why some politicians openly oppose costly conflicts while others do not and the difference this makes to their electoral fortunes. Examining U.S. Senate elections from 1966-1972, we find that state-level casualties, military experience, and a variety of other factors affect candidate positions on the Vietnam War. Challenger and incumbent positions are negatively related, suggesting that strategic considerations play a role in wartime policy formation. We also find that war plays a role in elections. Incumbents from states that experience higher casualties receive a smaller percentage of the vote, an effect ameliorated when the incumbent opposes the war and his or her opponent does not. Wartime casualties, we conclude, influence both the perceived cost of the war and its salience, affecting both candidate positions and elections, suggesting that selectorate/electorate-type arguments about war and domestic politics can apply to the US system.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sociology and Political Science