Research / BFI Working PaperApr 30, 2021

Losing on the Home Front? Battlefield Casualties, Media, and Public Support for Foreign Interventions

Thiemo Fetze, Pedro CL Souza, Oliver Vanden Eynde, Austin Wright

We study the impact of battlefield casualties and media coverage on public demand for war termination. To identify the effect of troop fatalities, we leverage the otherwise exogenous timing of survey collection across 26218 respondents from eight members of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Quasi-experimental evidence demonstrates that fatalities increase coverage of the Afghan conflict and public demand for withdrawal. Evidence from a survey experiment replicates the main results. To estimate the media mechanism, we leverage a news pressure design and find that major sporting matches occurring around the time of battlefield casualties drive down subsequent coverage and significantly weaken the effect of casualties on support for war termination. These results highlight the crucial role that media play in shaping public support for foreign military interventions.

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