Popular Opinion on War is Mostly Based on How Hard We’re Winning

The most important factor that statistically impacts the popularity of a war is whether we are winning. If we’re winning, we as a people tolerate pretty high casualties.

Dr. Feaver, the person who originally published these results from their conflict studies research heavily influenced the Bush administration in how it communicated the Iraq war (as reported by several journalists in 2005-6), and may have been responsible for the emphasis on winning quickly that Bush took with his speeches.

This same effect seems to have been picked up on in general by American politicians (e.g.: Mr. Trump and his fixation on repeating the words “win” and “lose;” Obama consistently downplaying the difficulty of destroying ISIS and repeating simple easy win conditions), so watch out for the impact of that analysis the next time you’re watching a speech.

Image By U.S. Department of Defense Current Photos
(101211-A-7125B-303) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Our core argument is that the U.S. public’s tolerance for the human costs of war is primarily shaped by the intersection of two crucial attitudes: beliefs about the rightness or wrongness of the war, and beliefs about a war’s likely success. The impact of each attitude depends upon the other. Ultimately, however, we find that beliefs about the likelihood of success matter most in determining the public’s willingness to tolerate U.S. military deaths in combat.
https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=5CBB7CBC784DB26C!385&authkey=!AOvcFBNMiNcM2JE&ithint=file%2cpdf (Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq, Christopher Gelpi, Peter D. Feaver, and Jason Reifler, International Security, Vol. 30, No. 3)

 

He used the word victory 15 times in the address; “Plan for Victory” signs crowded the podium he spoke on; […] reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver […] They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/politics/bushs-speech-on-iraq-war-echoes-voice-of-an-analyst.html?_r=0 (Bush’s Speech on Iraq War Echoes Voice of an Analyst, Scott Shane, The New York Times)

 

[The administration] recognizes that flagging domestic support will translate into a strategic straitjacket […] The Feaver/Gelpi solution to this conundrum is to have the President spell out a clear definition for victory…
http://foreignpolicy.com/2005/12/06/political-science-enters-the-white-house/ (Political science enters the White House, Daniel W. Drezner, Foreign Policy)

 

These results suggest [given] substantial disagreement about the prospects for success, the public’s support is likely to remain low or even decline.
http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/0162288054894616#.V2tkO7grK70 (Victory Has Many Friends: U.S. Public Opinion and the Use of Military Force, 1981–2005, Richard Eichenberg, International Security)

 

As the Washington Post reported nine months ago, Bush’s domestic political spin on the war is guided by the work of two Duke University political scientists, Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, […] Public support for the Iraq war has faltered because the American people cannot see progress toward a well defined goal and toward success.
http://www.salon.com/2006/03/23/civil_war/ (Civil War? What Civil War?, Juan Cole, Salon)

 

“We will have so much winning if I get elected, that you may get bored with winning.”
http://www.salon.com/2015/09/09/donald_trump_if_elected_well_have_so_much_winning_youll_get_bored_with_winning/

“Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.”
http://www.cnbc.com/2014/09/10/obama-us-will-lead-coalition-to-fight-isis-no-us-combat-troops-fighting-on-foreign-soil.html

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