Public responses to the presidential use of military force: A panel analysis Academic Article uri icon


  • How do citizens respond to dramatic uses of military force? While we know a great deal about the conditions that drive aggregate changes in presidential popularity in response to a president's use of military force, we know surprisingly little about how individuals respond to such events. What types of individuals operating under what types of conditions are more likely to support such actions? And to what extent does approval of the use of force affect subsequent changes, not only in presidential popularity, but also in more general foreign policy attitudes? We use panel survey data collected before and after the U.S. bombing of Libya in 1986 to investigate the individual-level dynamics of opinion change in response to this dramatic event. Because our study neatly brackets the Libyan air strikes, we are able to examine in some detail the antecedents and consequences of individuals' reactions to a president's use of military force. We find that watching President Reagan's dramatic televised speech had an unmistakable impact in moving respondents to support the bombing. We also find that support for the Libyan air strikes appeared to precipitate greater approval for a range of more "hard-line" military responses toward terrorism, thus creating opportunities for similar-or even broader-presidential initiatives in the future. Finally, because the bombing was the only significant event occurring between the waves of the panel, our quasi-experimental design ties approval of the bombing clearly to an upsurge in presidential approval. Implications for various perspectives on presidential leadership of public opinion in foreign affairs are discussed. 1995 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

published proceedings

  • Political Behavior

author list (cited authors)

  • Peffley, M., Langley, R. E., & Goidel, R. K.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Peffley, Mark||Langley, Ronald E||Goidel, Robert Kirby

publication date

  • January 1995