In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Factors Influencing Popular Support for War

  • Introduction

Political Science Factors Influencing Popular Support for War
Mary-Kate Lizotte
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0364


Starting with perception of the widespread discontent with the United States war in Vietnam, scholars and politicians have presumed that war and military action are not maintainable without citizen support. Accordingly, scholars have devoted extensive effort to uncover what factors influence popular support for war. Thus there is a large literature studying both major and minor wars as well as other types of military interventions. These studies of attitudes toward war fit into two categories. The first addresses the aggregate, national level of support for wars or military interventions. These studies focus on specific characteristics of wars and interventions, including the purpose for which they are fought, the types of military actions or tactics that are planned or executed, the number of casualties anticipated or actually suffered, and the anticipated or actual success or failure of the war. Many of these studies focus on popular support for actions taken by the United States, but there are also studies of opinion in Canada, Western Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. A second category of scholarship addresses the correlates of individuals’ support for wars and military interventions. Much of this research begins with the hypothesis that individuals’ ideology and partisanship are important correlates of support for war, but additional studies have investigated the importance of gender, race, and the impact of the media on citizen support. In addition to the research summarized here, readers should consult the Oxford Bibliographies in Political Science article, “Public Opinion and Foreign Policy” by Joshua D. Kertzer, especially the section on “Public Opinion and the Use of Force.”

Opinion on War in Different Regions of the World

Much of the existing work on factors affecting opinion on war has been regionally focused on Western democracies such as the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Research on public opinion indicates the surrounding circumstances have a significant influence on levels of support. For example, in American public opinion research, Russett and Nincic 1976, Jentleson 1992, Eichenberg 2005 and others find the objective—such as regime change, peacekeeping, and defending allies—affects levels of support. In the United States Mueller 1973, and in other western democracies Boucher 2010 and Reifler, et al. 2014, demonstrate the effect of casualties on public opinion. Work has also investigated other factors such as partisanship, ethnicity, and elite actions. For example, globally Bae and Lee 2021 and in the United States Zaller 1992 examine the influence of elite cues.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.