Data For Progress Working Paper #1: Justifying Military Force: Racial Attitudes, Race, and Gender

Jon Green, Ph.D. Student, Political Science, Ohio State University


What Jon Finds:

This working paper, from Data for Progress co-founder Jon Green (@_Jon_Green) explores a battery of questions included in the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES) asking respondents if they would endorse sending US troops abroad to do each of six different things: ensure the supply of oil, destroy a terrorist camp, intervene to stop a genocide or civil war, assist the spread of democracy, aid allies who were under attack from a foreign nation, and help the United Nations uphold international law.

Jon finds that there are notable variations in endorsement of these justifications by race and gender, but these differences are not consistent across all justifications. Women of color are far less supportive of military intervention to destroy a terrorist camp than white men, but are slightly more supportive of military intervention to uphold international law.

In addition, Jon uses a measure academics call “acceptance of racism” to model support for intervention. The acceptance of racism measure includes whether a respondent agrees that white people have advantages and agrees that racial problems are rare, and can be taken as an indicator of respondents’ comfort with systemic racial inequalities. He finds strong associations between acceptance of racism and support for some forms of colonialist interventionism, such as support for taking oil, after controlling for partisanship, ideology, demographic indicators, and military salience.


Why It Matters:

Jon’s paper adds important context to support for the use of military force, and the ways that attitudes about race shape support for different interventions.

For instance, since Trump is considering pulling the United States out of the Iran deal, we can examine the ways that racism affects attitudes towards Iran. According the 2012 American National Election Studies survey, which was fielded before the Iran Deal, stereotypes about Muslims are associated with more support for military intervention. People who believed that the word “violent” describes Muslims “extremely well” supported bombing Iran’s nuclear development sites 46 percent to 24 percent (the rest said they neither favored nor opposed). Among people who said the word violent describes Muslims “not at all well,” only 21 percent supported bombing nuclear development sites, with 44 percent opposed.

People who stereotype Muslims are less likely to support diplomacy. Among people who said the word “violent” described Muslims “extremely” well, 55 percent favored the sort of diplomatic talks that led to the Iran Deal (18 percent opposed), while among those who believed the word “violent” described Muslims “not at all well,” 71 percent favored diplomacy and only 5 percent opposed. As Trump considers undermining the Iran Deal and pursuing other actions that could lead to escalating our involvement in the Middle East, Jon’s paper gives us insights into how the reasons for using military force we consider legitimate are associated with our comfort with systemic racial inequalities.

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