Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace

  • Citation: Tomz, Michael and Jessica Weeks, "Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace," American Political Science Review, Vol. 107, No. 3 (2013), pp. 849-865.
    • Topics:
    • IR Theories
    • Keywords:
    • public opinion
    • polls
    • democratic peace
    • causal mechanisms

One of the most striking findings in political science is the democratic peace: the absence of war between democracies. Some authors attempt to explain this phenomenon by highlighting the of public opinion. They observe that democratic leaders are beholden to voters and argue that voters oppose war because of its human and financial costs. This logic predicts that democracies should behave peacefully in general, but history shows that democracies avoid war primarily in their relations with other democracies. In this article we investigate not whether democratic publics are averse to war general, but whether they are especially reluctant to fight other democracies. We embedded experiments in public opinion polls in the United States and the United Kingdom and found that individuals are substantially less supportive of military strikes against democracies than against otherwise identical autocracies. Moreover, our experiments suggest that shared democracy pacifies the public primarily by changing perceptions of threat and morality, not by raising expectations of costs or failure. These shed light on a debate of enduring importance to scholars and policy makers.

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