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Explaining Public Support for the Use of Military Force: The Impact of Reference Point Framing and Prospective Decision Making

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2011

Héctor Perla Jr.
University of California, Santa Cruz. E-mail:
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This article examines the determinants of public support for the use of military force. It puts forward a Framing Theory of Policy Objectives (FTPO), which contends that public support for military engagements depends on the public's perception of the policy's objective. However, it is difficult for the public to judge a policy's objective because they cannot directly observe a policy's true intention and influential political actors offer competing frames to define it. This framing contestation, carried out through the media, sets the public's decision-making reference point and determines whether the policy is perceived as seeking to avoid losses or to achieve gains. The FTPO predicts that support will increase when the public perceives policies as seeking to prevent losses and decrease when the public judges policies to be seeking gains. I operationalize and test the theory using content analysis of national news coverage and opinion polls of U.S. intervention in Central America during the 1980s. These framing effects are found to hold regardless of positive or negative valence of media coverage.

Research Article
Copyright © The IO Foundation 2011

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