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Presidents, the Use of Military Force, and Public Opinion


  • Bradley Lian
  • John R. Oneal

    (University of Alabama)


It is conventional wisdom that the public rallies 'round the president when military force is used abroad. Indeed, this belief has encouraged the view that presidents are apt to rattle the saber to divert attention from domestic problems. The rally effect is assessed by measuring the change in the president's popularity following all major uses of force by the United States from 1950 through 1984. Surprisingly, for these 102 cases, the mean change in the president's approval rating is 0%, even among the members of his party. Even well-publicized uses of force during a crisis boost the president's standing only 2%-3% on average. Regression analyses confirm that the rallying effect of a use of force is greater in a crisis and when the action is prominently reported by the media. In addition, rallies are greater when the president enjoys bipartisan support, his initial popularity is low, and the country is not at war or fatigued by war.

Suggested Citation

  • Bradley Lian & John R. Oneal, 1993. "Presidents, the Use of Military Force, and Public Opinion," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 37(2), pages 277-300, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jocore:v:37:y:1993:i:2:p:277-300

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    Cited by:

    1. Christopher A. Simon & Nicholas P. Lovrich, 2009. "Sources of Support for Mandatory Military Service in the Context of the War on Terrorism: Survey Evidence Pre‐ and Post‐September 11, 2001," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 90(2), pages 368-386, June.
    2. Anastasia Kazun, 2016. "Rally-Around-The-Flag and the Media: Case of Economic Sanctions in Russia," HSE Working papers WP BRP 33/PS/2016, National Research University Higher School of Economics.
    3. William Seitz & Alberto Zazzaro, 2019. "Sanctions and Public Opinion: The Case of the Russia-Ukraine Gas Disputes," CSEF Working Papers 529, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    4. Gregory D. Hess & Athanasios Orphanides, 2001. "War and Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(4), pages 776-810, August.

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