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Confidence over Confidence: Explaining Public Support for the US Military

Thu, August 29, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hilton, Columbia 5


One of the sturdiest findings of American public opinion is how the public, in the aggregate, expresses a high level of confidence in the military as an institution. Yet we do not understand why the military is held in high regard or why this high regard has persisted. What factors drive the public’s high esteem for those in uniform? Previous research has proposed potential explanations, but also exposed seeming contradictions. The competence or ethical behavior of those in uniform might explain public admiration, for example, but if so, why has it survived infamous scandals and uncertain results in the wars the U.S. has waged over two decades? Politicization of the military or perceived military partisanship also may shape public attitudes, but why has confidence remained high across both parties despite some partisan differences? High confidence also could be the result of a substitutionary effect as regard for other institutions declines or social desirability bias, but why is the military the obvious repository for esteem? Drawing on a series of survey-based experiments, with a nationally-representative sample including nearly 3,000 respondents, we explore the determinants of public support for the military and assess the strength of these competing and complementary explanations.