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Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 989–1009 | Cite as

Threat Perception and American Support for Torture

  • Courtenay R. Conrad
  • Sarah E. Croco
  • Brad T. Gomez
  • Will H. Moore
Original Paper

Abstract

When do Americans support the government’s use of torture? We argue that perceptions of threat undermine the extent to which American public opinion serves as a bulwark against government torture. Although surveys demonstrate that a slim majority of the American public generally opposes torture, using a nationally-representative survey experiment, we show that Americans are considerably more supportive of government abuse when it is directed at individuals who they perceive as threatening: specifically, when a detainee has an Arabic name and when the alleged crime is terrorism. Given the malleability of public opinion as a potential constraint on abuse, our results underscore the importance of institutional protections of human rights.

Keywords

Torture Public opinion Human rights Survey experiment 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This work was partially supported by the Center for the Study of Democratic Performance and the Department of Political Science at Florida State University. We are grateful to Ana Bracic, Scott Clifford, Daniel Corstange, Darren Davis, Chris Fariss, Paul Gronke, Brandon Merrill, Kristy Pathakis, Dave Siegel, Geoffrey Wallace, Thomas Zeitzoff, audiences at the 2014 and 2016 International Studies Association Annual Meetings, and colloquia at Peace Research Institute Oslo, Arizona State University, the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Denver for useful feedback. We also thank Dennis Langley of Florida State University for his research assistance. Unfortunately, during the final stages of our work on this paper, our friend and coauthor, Will Moore, passed away. He was a remarkable colleague, mentor, and scholar; he will be greatly missed.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9433_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (41 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 41 KB)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Courtenay R. Conrad
    • 1
  • Sarah E. Croco
    • 2
  • Brad T. Gomez
    • 3
  • Will H. Moore
    • 4
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaMercedUSA
  2. 2.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  3. 3.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA
  4. 4.Arizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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