Prudence, principle and minimal heuristics: British public opinion toward the use of military force in Afghanistan and Libya

Jason Reifler, Harold D. Clarke, Thomas J. Scotto, David Sanders, Marianne C. Stewart, Paul Whiteley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


This article shows: Clear pluralities of British survey respondents opposed their nation's military interventions in Afghanistan and Libya. Opposition to involvement in the conflicts mostly a function of the costs the missions would impose on the nation and concerns about the morality of the missions. Attitudes towards the parties and their leaders are weak predictors of the respondents' attitudes towards involving the nation's military in the conflict. Survey experiment reveals the positions leaders and parties took on sending additional British troops into Afghanistan did not prime support or opposition to such a 'surge'. Scholarship is divided on the primary drivers of public support for the use of military force. This article addresses this controversy by comparing three competing models of British public opinion towards the use of military force in Afghanistan and Libya. Analyses of national survey data demonstrate that cost-benefit calculations and normative considerations have sizable effects, but leader images and other heuristics have very limited explanatory power. These results are buttressed by experimental evidence showing that leader cues have negligible impacts on attitudes towards participation in a military 'surge' in Afghanistan. The minimal role heuristics played in motivating citizen support and opposition to the conflicts in these two countries contrast with their significant relationship to citizen attitudes towards the British intervention in Iraq. These conflicting results suggest that the strength of leader and partisan cues may be animated by the intensity of inter-elite conflict over British involvement in military interventions. © 2013 The Authors. British Journal of Politics and International Relations © 2013 Political Studies Association.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-55
Number of pages28
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • foreign policy attitudes
  • public opinion
  • attitudinal survey
  • cost-benefit analysis
  • foreign policy

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