Elites, Events and British Support for the War in Afghanistan
38 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 28 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
Studies of the dynamics driving public support for war have largely split into two camps, one emphasizing the importance of unmediated conflict events and the other of elite discourse. To test the explanatory power of each perspective, we marshal a wide range of aggregate, individual-level and experimental survey data concerning British support for the war in Afghanistan. We find little support for event-response theories. With respect to elite theories, the data is more mixed. At the individual level, we find modest evidence consistent with elite opinion leadership; politically aware partisans are more supportive of the war in Afghanistan than are their peers who are less attuned to politics and therefore less exposed to elite cues. Similarly, our experiments show that even modest elite cues continue to influence support for war among some segments of the public. However, the aggregate level of war support is strikingly low throughout most of the period, despite the strong elite consensus in support of the war effort. Thus, elite discourse does appear to influence opinion, but only at the margins around a surprisingly low mean level of public support.
Keywords: public opinion, war, elites, casualties
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