Home Communication Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force
A first inspection: bivariate relationships
Let us start with a simple bivariate comparative analysis of the impact of the various situational variables (Tables 6.4 and 6.5 above). Table 6.4 presents the results for the three groups distinguished earlier that emerge when we try to develop more general and robust indicators of the various dimensions incorporated in the model of support developed above by combining the relevant individual indicators that are part of the more general factors specified in Chapter 2.
The data above reveals at least three interesting outcomes. The first is that, as noted already before, generally and independently from the framing of the question, the willingness to support the use of force on many if not most dimensions of the discourse is much higher across the board, in the United States than in Europe, and in Europe higher again than in the group of 'Other countries'.
Second, there is often a considerable impact of a particular stimulus, such as, for instance, a reference to casualties. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the impact of a particular stimulus entailed by a difference in question wording in polls, such as a reference to casualties, is not equally strong for each individual and consequently support tends to move within a range. Some people will never support war, whatever the conditions, others will always support it, whatever the circumstances. Consequently, there is a range within which support moves. The range is not always equally wide and the sensitivity differs from country to country. In the US, a much higher average level of support combines with generally more stability in popular views. Americans are only partly sensitive to the framing of the discourse. Consequently, the overall variation is much smaller than in Europe. In the EU countries, support of force in an abstract sense varies between 49 percent (when the question refers to 'military casualties' or 'negative legitimacy') and 70 percent (when the question refers to 'fight terrorism'). In Other countries, the variation stretches between 19 ('civilian casualties' mentioned) and 50 percent ('WMDs found'), much higher again than in the US, and thus displaying a less deeply founded persuasion that war is either acceptable or not, and a greater sensitivity to the terms in which the debate about the necessity of war is conducted.
Since the width of the variation for all categories of variables in Tables 6.4 and 6.5 also differs considerably, this suggests a greater sensitivity to different factors and considerations involved outside the US. This seems to imply that the public in the US not only is 1) more likely to support the use of military force, but also 2) less likely to distinguish between different issues and 3) considerably less sensitive to the conditions under which military force is being used.
Third, of the various factors present, many seem to have a small or negligible impact on the level of support. Sometimes, this seems not surprising, but in other cases the results are counterintuitive. Some others seem quite influential, but this influence is not equally strong across countries (or groups of countries). One can therefore not easily generalize from one country to another (group). As noted before, in the group of 'Other countries' as well as in Europe (though to a lesser extent) the impact is systematically larger than in the US.
Looking more specifically at the impact of each single factor on the average level of support in Table 6.5 within each country or group of countries, we see some interesting phenomena. In Europe, the greatest impact is exerted by four considerations. Support increases when peacekeeping or humanitarian action is mentioned, but drops considerably when the question refers in some way to civilian casualties or the lack of international legitimacy. The absence of a UN mandate and a reference to civilian casualties depress support for the use of force by 12 and 23 percentage points on average, respectively. On the contrary, with the presence of references to a UN force, peacekeeping and humanitarian goals increase support by 24, 20 and 18 percentage points respectively.
In the US, on the other hand, the discourse is rather different. The impact of the factors mentioned is much weaker and somewhat different considerations play a role. The lack of legitimacy and military casualties do depress support, but not as strongly (by 10 and 9 percentage points respectively) as in Europe while the danger of escalation and duration (or rather the lack thereof) increases support (by 13 and 8 percentage points respectively). Remarkably, a reference to a 'multilateral' action decreases rather than increases support. When Americans are willing to go to war they prefer to do this on their own, but with other countries cheering them on. Like in Europe, UN support is valued positively, but as to actual warfare Americans seem to prefer unilateral action over coalition warfare.
In the group of Other countries, each factor has a greater impact by far. An explicit reference to humanitarian intervention increases support on average by 35 percentage points, while a reference to the need for legitimacy (even if not clearly a positive reference to it) pushes support up by 28 percentage points. Civilian casualties and a reference to possible negative consequences depress support by 18 and 22 percentage points respectively. These results seem to further undermine the thesis of casualty aversion. To the extent that military casualties play a role, it is first largely confined to the US and, secondly, civilian casualties are of far greater concern than military.
These results, however, should be interpreted with caution, particularly with respect to generalizing too quickly. The relative weight of the different considerations varies considerably across countries and between cases.
A more detailed, multivariate analysis is therefore essential. This will be reported below. By way of summary, taking the top four most influential dimensions in either direction for each group, the following picture emerges from Table 6.6 (differences from average degree of support and most relevant variables mentioned first).
Table 6.6 Differences from average degree of support for four most relevant variables
A few words of caution should be added at this point. Sometimes, the number of questions that have been asked in the respective group is rather small. Also, in some cases the outcomes seem to depend too much on the wording/coding of particular questions. The above summary is therefore primarily illustrative of particular differences in the importance of specific considerations in the discourse rather than conclusive evidence. One should not rely too much on the indices used above and also look at the impact of individual codings.
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