American Political Science Review

Research Article

Caught in the Draft: The Effects of Vietnam Draft Lottery Status on Political Attitudes


a1 Columbia University

a2 University of California at Berkeley


The 1969 Vietnam draft lottery assigned numbers to birth dates in order to determine which young men would be called to fight in Vietnam. We exploit this natural experiment to examine how draft vulnerability influenced political attitudes. Data are from the Political Socialization Panel Study, which surveyed high school seniors from the class of 1965 before and after the national draft lottery was instituted. Males holding low lottery numbers became more antiwar, more liberal, and more Democratic in their voting compared to those whose high numbers protected them from the draft. They were also more likely than those with safe numbers to abandon the party identification that they had held as teenagers. Trace effects are found in reinterviews from the 1990s. Draft number effects exceed those for preadult party identification and are not mediated by military service. The results show how profoundly political attitudes can be transformed when public policies directly affect citizens' lives.


c1 Robert S. Erikson is Professor of Political Science, Columbia University, 7th Floor, International Affairs Building, 420 W. 118th Street, New York, NY 10027 (

c2 Laura Stoker is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, 778 Barrows Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720 (


Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2009 meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, the 2009 New York Area Political Psychology meeting, the 2009 Northeast Political Science Methods meeting, and the 2010 West Coast Experimental Political Science Conference. The authors are grateful for the advice of participants at these meetings and from seminar participants at Columbia University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, Yale University, and London School of Economics and Political Science. We are thankful for comments from Jason Dempsey, Shigeo Hirano, Luke Keele, Kathleen Knight, Jas Sekhon, and Charles Stein, as well as for the research assistance of Kelly Rader. We also appreciate the help from our reviewers and the coeditors of this journal. Financial support for the most recent data collection used here came from the National Science Foundation (grant no. SBR-9601295).