Althaus on War and Informed Opinion
By Bryan Caplan
Sam Wilson’s results on war and income don’t surprise me, but I think Art is misinterpreting them. Income is a decent proxy for political knowledge, and Scott Althaus ably summarizes the subtleties of political knowledge and foreign policy in his excellent Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics (2003):
[F]ully informed opinion on foreign policy issues is relatively more interventionist than surveyed opinion but slightly more dovish when it comes to the use and maintenance of military power. For example, while 29% of respondents in 1988 agreed that the United States should stay out of problems in other parts of the world, the level of agreement dropped to just 18% of fully informed responses. Likewise, in 1992 agreement on this question dropped from 26% in surveyed opinion to 14% in simulated opinion, and in 1996 dropped from 27% to 16%. Yet fully informed opinion also tends to be more dovish than surveyed opinion when it comes to the use of military force. For example, a question from the 1988 ANES asked, “Do you favor or oppose using American military forces in the Middle East to protect oil shipments?” While 64% of surveyed responses favored military deployment, support dropped to 57% of fully informed responses. Fully informed opinion is more in favor of having a strong military but less in favor of using military force to solve problems. When asked in 1988, “Which do you think is the better way for us to keep peace – by having a very strong military so other countries won’t attack us, or by working out our disagreements at the bargaining table?”, support for having a strong military rose from 26% in surveyed opinion to 33% in simulated opinion. Yet two questions later, when asked whether “The U.S. should maintain its position at the world’s most powerful nation even if it means going to the brink of war,” the percentage disagreeing with this statement rose from 37% in surveyed opinion to 43% in simulated opinion.
Of course, as a pacifist I think that informed opinion (and uninformed opinion!) is far too hawkish. The third book in my going-to-write queue will try to straighten the informed public out. But if you simply want to understand public opinion as it is, Althaus is the go-to guy.