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The Military and American Society

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

Session Submission Type: Full Paper Panel

Session Description

One of the sturdiest polling statistics in American politics is the high level of confidence the general public expresses for the military. Americans, on average, hold the military in high regard, the highest of any governmental institution, and this has remained true for several decades. Despite consistent polling, however, scholarship on civil-military relations in political science has done little to advance our understanding what factors drive the public’s elevated perceptions of the military and what this high esteem means for larger questions of public policy. Deploying various methods, the papers in the proposed panel advance this intellectual agenda by exploring the causes and consequences of the US military’s peculiarly strong standing in U.S. discourse and politics and its impact on public opinion. (1) Golby and Feaver draw on a series of large, survey-based experiments to explore the determinants of public support for the military and assess the competing strength of the most prominent explanations. They argue that partisanship, performance, and social desirability all contribute to public perceptions of the military, but that these factors have varying impacts across different subgroups in terms of both the intensity and direction of support or opposition. (2) Cohn and Blankshain examine the role of the Guard and Reserve post-Vietnam, arguing that there has been a socio-demographic shift in the composition of the reserves, causing the public to view the reserve component more as an extension of the all-volunteer force rather than a collection of citizen soldiers. They analyze demographic trends to determine the extent to which the reserve component has come to mirror the active component. (3) Michael Robinson uses observational data on news media reporting patterns and original text-as-data processed through unsupervised machine learning techniques to examine partisan differences in their evaluation of the military. He argues that a failure of partisans to converge on a common assessment of the military reflects a partisan bias resulting from exposure to different information about the military and different cognitive biases. (4) Finally, Carrie Lee examines the connection between society and the military by exploring whether the expectation of success impacts casualty sensitivity among the public in war. Using evidence from a nationally-representative survey experiment, she argues that even small changes in reported casualties significantly impact the public’s expectation of the success of a hypothetical military intervention. Together, this collection of papers presents a broad and rich examination of the connection between the U.S. armed forces and American society.

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