Soldiers, pollsters, and international crises: Public opinion and the military's advice on the use of force

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When advising civilian leaders on the use of force, are nonelected officials swayed by public opinion? Scholars have long debated whether public preferences affect foreign policy, but most studies focus on elected politicians, overlooking the nonelected officials who formulate policies and advise leaders. Bureaucrats and nonelected officials are expected to provide advice based on technical expertise, yet they may have institutional incentives and civic-minded reasons to recommend actions that align with popular preferences. This potentially creates additional channels through which public opinion influences policy decisions. An original survey experiment fielded on US military officers reveals that public opposition makes military leaders less likely to recommend the use of force. This article contributes to debates on the role of public opinion in foreign policymaking, integrates research on public opinion and civil-military relations, and yields broader insights for scholars studying the behavior of officials who are not subject to electoral ncentives.




Lin-Greenberg, E. (2021). Soldiers, pollsters, and international crises: Public opinion and the military’s advice on the use of force. Foreign Policy Analysis, 17(3).

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