Political Behavior

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 151–174 | Cite as

Iraq the Vote: Retrospective and Prospective Foreign Policy Judgments on Candidate Choice and Casualty Tolerance

Original paper


In this article, we model the effect of foreign policy attitudes on both vote choice and casualty tolerance, using survey data collected during the 2004 election. We show that prospective judgments of the likelihood of success in Iraq and retrospective judgments of whether the war in Iraq was right are significant determinants of both vote choice and casualty tolerance. The prospective judgment of success is key in predicting casualty tolerance, while retrospective judgment of whether the war was right takes precedence in determining vote choice. In addition, there is an important interaction between the two variables, so the effect of one is conditional on the value of the other. We believe this is compelling evidence that foreign policy matters, and that it matters in reasonable ways.


Voting behavior Casualty tolerance 



This work is supported by grants from the Carnegie Corporation and the National Science Foundation. The authors would like to thank an anonymous reviewer, the editors of Political Behavior, John Aldrich, and seminar participants at Duke University for their helpful comments.


  1. Aldrich, J. (1977). Electoral choice in 1972: A test of some theorems of the spatial model of electoral competition. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 5, 215–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aldrich, J., Sullivan, J., & Borgida, E. (1989). Foreign affairs and issue voting: Do presidential candidates ‘waltz before a blind audience?’ American Political Science Review, 83(1), 123–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Almond, G. (1950). The American people and foreign policy. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  4. Berinsky, A. (2007). Assuming the costs of war: Events, elites, and American public support for military conflict. Journal of Politics, 69(4).Google Scholar
  5. Boettcher, W., & Cobb, M. (2006). Echoes of Vietnam?: Casualty framing and public perceptions of success and failure in Iraq. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(1), 831–854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brody, R. A., & Page, B. I. (1972). Comment: The assessment of policy voting. American Political Science Review, 66(2), 450–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Burk, J. (1999). Public support for peacekeeping in Lebanon and Somalia: Assessing the casualties hypothesis. Political Science Quarterly, 114(1), 53–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Converse, P. E. (1964). The nature of belief systems in mass publics. In D. Apter (Ed.), Ideology and discontent. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  10. Couper, M. P. (2000). Web surveys: A review of issues and approaches. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64, 464–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Destler, I. M., & Kull, S. (1999). Misreading the public: The myth of a new isolationism. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  12. Eichenberg, R. C. (2005). Victory has many friends: The American public and the use of military force, 1981–2004. International Security, 30(1), 140–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elder, J., & Nagourney, A. (2003). A nation at war; POLL; Opinions begin to shift as public weighs cost of war. New York Times March 26.Google Scholar
  14. Evans, G., & Andersen, R. (2006). The political conditioning of economic perceptions. Journal of Politics, 68(1), 194–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Feaver, P. D., & Gelpi, C. (2004). Choosing your battles: American civil-military relations and the use of force. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Fiorina, M. P. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Gelpi, C., Feaver, P. D., & Reifler, J. (2005/2006). Success Matters: Casualty Sensitivity and the War in Iraq. International Security, 30(3), 7–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Holsti, O. R. (1997). Public opinion and American foreign policy. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hurwitz, J., & Peffley, M. (1987a). How are foreign policy attitudes structured? A hierarchical model. American Political Science Review, 81(4), 1099–1120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hurwitz, J., & Peffley, M. (1987b). The means and ends of foreign policy as determinants of presidential support. American Journal of Political Science, 31(2), 236–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hyde, C. K. (2000). Casualty aversion: Implications for policymakers and senior military officers. Aerospace Power Journal, 14(2), 17–27.Google Scholar
  22. Jentleson, B. W. (1992). The pretty prudent public: Post-Vietnam American opinion on the use of military force. International Studies Quarterly, 36(2), 49–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jentleson, B., & Britton, R. L. (1998). Still pretty prudent. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 42(4).Google Scholar
  24. Johnson, D., & Tierney, D. (2006). Failing to win: Perceptions of victory and defeat in international politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kiewiet, D. R. (1983). Macroeconomics and micropolitics: The electoral effects of economic issues. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  26. Kinder, D., & Kiewiet, D. R. (1979). Economic grievances and political behavior: The role of personal discontents and collective judgments in congressional voting. American Journal of Political Science, 23, 495–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kinder, D., & Kiewiet, D. R. (1981). Sociotropic politics: The American case. British Journal of Political Science, 11, 129–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Klarevas, L. J. (2000). The polls-trends: The United States peace operation in Somalia. Public Opinion Quarterly, 64(4), 523–540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Lane C. (1998). Casualty attitude. New Republic, 219(17), 6.Google Scholar
  30. Larson, E. (1996). Casualties and consensus: The historical role of casualties in domestic support for U.S. military operations. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.Google Scholar
  31. Lewis-Beck, M. (2006). Does economics still matter? Econometrics and the vote. Journal of Politics, 68(1), 208–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Luttwak, E. (1994). Where are the great powers? Foreign Affairs, 73(4), 23–28.Google Scholar
  33. Luttwak, E. (1996). A post-heroic military policy. Foreign Affairs, 75(4), 33–44.Google Scholar
  34. Moskos, C. (1995). Grave decision: When Americans feel more at ease accepting the casualties of war. Chicago Tribune December 12, p. 25.Google Scholar
  35. Mueller, J. (1973). War, presidents, and public opinion. New York: John Wiley and Sons.Google Scholar
  36. Nickelsburg, M. J., & Norpoth, H. (2000). Commander-in-chief or chief economist? The president in the eye of the public. Electoral Studies, 19, 313–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nincic, M. & Hinkley, B. (1992). Foreign policy and the evaluation of presidential candidates. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 35, 333–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2006). Why are political misperceptions so difficult to correct? Paper presented at American Political Science Association annual meeting, Philadelphia, PA, September, 1, 2006.Google Scholar
  39. Peffley, M., & Hurwitz, J. (1993). Models of attitude constraint in foreign affairs. Political Behavior, 15(1), 61–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Purdum, T. S. (2003). A nation at war: The casualties; delicate calculus of casualties and public opinion. New York Times March 27, B1.Google Scholar
  41. Record, J. (2000). Force-protection: Fetishism sources, consequences, and (?) solutions. Aerospace Power Journal, 14(2), 411.Google Scholar
  42. Reifler, J. (nd). Causes and consequences of exposure to different news source. Unpublished typescript.Google Scholar
  43. Ricks, T. E. (2003). U.S. casualties expose risks, raise doubts about strategy. Washington Post March 24, p. 1.Google Scholar
  44. Sapolsky, H. M., & Shapiro, J. (1996). Casualties, technology, and America’s future wars. Parameters, 26(2), 119–126.Google Scholar
  45. Shapiro, R. Y., & Page, B. I. (1988). Foreign policy and the rational public. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32(2), 211–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stokes, D. E. (1966). Some dynamic elements of contests for the presidency. American Political Science Review, 60, 19–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Tomz, M. (2007). Domestic audience costs in international relations: An experimental approach. International Organization, Forthcoming.Google Scholar
  48. Wilcox, C., & Allsop, D. (1991). Economic and foreign policy as sources of Reagan support. The Western Political Quarterly, 44(4), 941–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Witko, C. (2003). Cold war belligerence and U.S. public opinion toward defense spending. American Politics Research, 31(4), 379–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Wittkopf, E. R. (1990). Faces of internationalism: Public opinion and American foreign policy. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Wlezien, C. (1995). The Public as thermostat: Dynamics of preferences for spending. American Journal of Political Science, 39(4), 981–1000.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wlezien, C. (1996). Dynamics of representation: The case of US spending on defence. British Journal of Political Science, 26(1), 81–103.Google Scholar
  53. Zaller, J. (1992). The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Gelpi
    • 1
  • Jason Reifler
    • 2
  • Peter Feaver
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceLoyola University ChicagoChicagoUSA

Personalised recommendations