PS: Political Science & Politics


U.S. Public Opinion on Torture, 2001–2009

Paul Gronkea1, Darius Rejalia1, Dustin Drenguisa1, James Hicksa1, Peter Millera2 and Bryan Nakayamaa1

a1 Reed College

a2 University of California, Irvine

Many journalists and politicians believe that during the Bush administration, a majority of Americans supported torture if they were assured that it would prevent a terrorist attack. As Mark Danner wrote in the April 2009 New York Review of Books, “Polls tend to show that a majority of Americans are willing to support torture only when they are assured that it will ‘thwart a terrorist attack.’” This view was repeated frequently in both left- and right-leaning articles and blogs, as well as in European papers (Sharrock 2008; Judd 2008; Koppelman 2009; Liberation 2008). There was a consensus, in other words, that throughout the years of the Bush administration, public opinion surveys tended to show a pro-torture American majority.

Paul Gronke is a professor of political science at Reed College and the director of the Early Voting Information Center. He specializes in early voting, electoral behavior, public opinion, and social science methodology. He received his PhD from the University of Michigan and has previously taught at Duke University. He can be reached at

Darius Rejali is a professor of political science at Reed College and an internationally recognized expert on government torture and interrogation. He is the author of Torture and Democracy (Princeton, 2007), winner of the 2007 APSA Human Rights Book of the Year Award. He can be reached at