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Public Opinion and the Democratic Peace

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2013

Stanford University
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Michael R. Tomz is Professor of Political Science, Stanford University (
Jessica L. P. Weeks is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Madison (


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 role 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 in 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 findings shed light on a debate of enduring importance to scholars and policy makers.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

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