Public Opinion and Crisis Behavior in Nuclearized South Asia

A new survey experiment finds public support for escalating rather than de-escalating a crisis in response to provocation from an adversary


Research on public opinion and crisis behavior has focused largely on pressures felt by leaders who have initiated a crisis, not on leaders in target states responding to adversary provocation. Our survey experiment involving 1,823 respondents in Punjab, Pakistan, finds public support for escalating rather than de-escalating in response to such provocation. It shows how public pressures can encourage conflict even in instances where a leader has engaged in no prior effort to generate audience costs following crisis onset. Survey respondents were more likely to support escalatory decisions if they were made by a military, rather than civilian, leader, although we do not find that military leaders receive more support in de-escalatory decisions. Finally, while we demonstrate that leaders can mitigate the costs of de-escalating by highlighting the dangers of conflict, they still incur opportunity costs in foregone public support when they opt to de-escalate rather than escalate a crisis.

This article was originally published in International Studies Quarterly.

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