Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2014

A People of War or Peace? Americans' Attitudes Towards the Use of Military Force Abroad in Terrorist and Conflict Situations

Emanuel Boussios

May 2014

Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies


This exploratory research presents the results of a March 2011 survey of a random sample of 217 adults on their attitudes towards the use of force as a foreign policy alternative. This research note examines the social characteristics of those people who are more or less likely to support intervening in hypothetical foreign conflicts in situations in which the United States’ national interests may or may not be at stake. The research reported here was aimed at answering several questions including: are there some demographic groups who are more likely to support intervening in foreign conflicts even when U.S. national interests are not necessarily at stake? I find that dispositional preferences interact with opinion about the geopolitical situation to determine whether military force is an acceptable option. The survey incorporates various foreign policy and terrorist scenarios. Findings include the following: I support the findings of others in that Democrats, liberals, and women are less likely to support military force as a foreign policy option. Using multivariate regression analysis it was also found that certain respondent dispositions, such as “value placed on human life,” were more likely to constrain policy preferences. I also find conflicting support for the casualty hypothesis. In general the more casualties mentioned in a scenario the less likely Americans are to support the use of force, with a notable exception here among "hawks". I also find this is true for civilian casualties.