Revenge and U.S. Public Support for War Against Iraq

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman and Linda J. Skitka, “Revenge and U.S. Public Support for War Against Iraq,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 3 (Fall 2017), 636–660.

Abstract: To better understand how desires to avenge the September 11 terror attacks affected US public support for the 2003 Iraq War, we integrate data from two uncoordinated surveys—one measuring revenge motivations and the other beliefs about Iraqi complicity—completed by overlapping samples drawn from the same online panel. Citizens who mistakenly blamed Iraq for 9/11 were more likely to say that going to war would satisfy their desires for revenge, which in turn predicted greater war support, controlling for political orientations and the perceived security incentives and costs of war. But a substantial proportion of those who said Iraq was not involved in 9/11 also expected war to satisfy desires for revenge, suggesting that a revenge “spillover” effect also contributed to war support. These findings help explain how President George W. Bush was able to bring the nation to war against Iraq, testify to the importance of emotion and moral motivation in public opinion, and demonstrate the utility of integrating data from independent online panel surveys.