Emotional Reactions to Terrorism and U.S. Public Support for the Iraq War

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman, “Emotional Reactions to Terrorism and U.S. Public Support for the Iraq War,” presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 5–8, 2018. https://pjliberman.github.io/files/Liberman.MPSA.4-18a.docx

Abstract: In retrospectively integrated survey data, U.S. citizens who were relatively angry and wanting revenge soon after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks more strongly supported war against Iraq over one year later. This was not due to mistaken beliefs that Iraq had been involved in the attacks, to angry citizens’ perceptions of a greater terrorist threat or lesser war risks, to political orientations, or to cue taking from elite discourse. Rather, angry desires for revenge appear to have been psychologically redirected toward Iraq. These findings demonstrate the importance of anger in political attitudes, challenge widely accepted interpretations of the impact of 9/11 on U.S. public support for war, and help explain how President George W. Bush was able to lead the United States to war in 2003 against a country having nothing to do with the terror attacks.