When Gender (Sometimes) Trumps Party: Citizen Attitudes Toward Torture in the War Against Terror

43 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2014 Last revised: 10 Dec 2014

Date Written: July 13, 2014


Americans remained engaged in a contentious debate: whether the US government should engage in the torture of prisoners as a matter of explicit policy. Given the controversy that surrounds the issue and the number of surveys conducted, there has been surprisingly little scholarly work that seeks to explain not just the percentage of Americans who support torture, but exactly which citizens express that support. In this article, I analyze the correlates of support for torture in American public opinion, with particular attention to contextual variation in the relative impact of partisanship and gender. I analyze several different surveys over the period 2004-2011 and find that partisanship usually dominates as a correlate of torture support. However, both in 2004 and in early 2009, gender had a stronger influence on support for torture. I argue that the influence of gender was heightened by the substantial publicity that accompanied the release of photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004 and the attention to moral arguments against torture that resulted from the announcement of President Obama’s executive order that banned torture in January 2009. The implications for the study of torture and gender politics are discussed together with some observations about torture as a political issue.

Keywords: gender, torture, partisanship, public opinion, national security

Suggested Citation

Eichenberg, Richard C., When Gender (Sometimes) Trumps Party: Citizen Attitudes Toward Torture in the War Against Terror (July 13, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2480104 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2480104

Richard C. Eichenberg (Contact Author)

Tufts University ( email )

Medford, MA 02155
United States

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