How Citizens Respond to Combat Casualties

Kriner, Douglas L.; Shen, Francis X.
December 2012
Public Opinion Quarterly;Dec2012, Vol. 76 Issue 4, p761
Academic Journal
Scholars have long analyzed the influence of combat casualties on public support for war. However, the mechanisms through which casualties—particularly local casualties—affect wartime opinion formation have received much less attention. We employ a novel survey experiment to test three mechanisms that might explain previously observed cleavages in war support between residents of high- and low-casualty communities. We find that subjects who read a news story concerning a casualty from their home state were significantly more likely to oppose the war in Afghanistan than were subjects who read an identically worded news story in which the fallen soldier was not identified as being from the respondent’s home state. Moreover, this difference emerged regardless of whether the story followed the coverage patterns and emphasis typical of national or local media reporting. We conclude that the local connections triggered by learning of a home-state casualty, not the emotionally charged nature of local media reporting, is most responsible for generating opinion cleavages observed in previous research.


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