Reframing the Casualties Hypothesis: (Mis)Perceptions of Troop Loss and Public Opinion About War
Posted: 4 Jun 2010
Date Written: Summer 2010
The casualties hypothesis predicts that as the casualties suffered by a nation mount during a military intervention, public opinion will turn against the intervention and its people will demand troop withdrawal. We use the U.S. war in Iraq as a context for testing the perceived casualties hypothesis, which predicts that public beliefs about the actual number of casualties account for public opinion about a military intervention independent of the number of casualties actually suffered. Using data from several thousand respondents to telephone surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 2005 and 2006 as well as data on the number of U.S. casualties suffered as of the interview date, we find that relative to correct estimators and underestimators, respondents who believed the U.S. had suffered more casualties than had really occurred were most supportive of withdrawing troops from the conflict. Attention to the news predicted accuracy in one’s beliefs about the number of casualties, but not opinion about the intervention (when accounting for perceptions of the number of casualties suffered), suggesting that accuracy of one’s knowledge mediates the effect of attention to the news on public opinion. Ancillary analyses answer the question as to who is paying attention to the news about the war and who is more likely to have accurate knowledge of casualties.
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