The Journal of Politics


Democratic Peace or Clash of Civilizations? Target States and Support for War in Britain and the United States

Robert Johnsa1 and Graeme A. M. Daviesa2

a1 University of Essex

a2 University of Leeds


Research on public support for war shows that citizens are responsive to various aspects of strategic context. Less attention has been paid to the core characteristics of the target state. In this comparative study we report survey experiments manipulating two such characteristics, regime type and dominant faith, to test whether the “democratic peace” and the “clash of civilizations” theses are reflected in U.S. and British public opinion. The basic findings show small differences across the two cases: both publics were somewhat more inclined to use force against dictatorships than against democracies and against Islamic than against Christian countries. Respondent religion played no moderating role in Britain: Christians and nonbelievers were alike readier to attack Islamic states. However, in the United States, the dominant faith effect was driven entirely by Christians. Together, our results imply that public judgments are driven as much by images and identities as by strategic calculations of threat.


  Robert Johns is Senior Lecturer in Politics in the Department of Government at the University of Essex, Colchester, U.K.

Graeme A. M. Davies is Associate Professor in International Security in the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds, U.K.

  Support for this research was provided by the Economic & Social Research Council (RES-062-23-1952) and Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences, NSF Grant 0818839, Jeremy Freese and Penny Visser, Principal Investigators. For supplemental material, see the online appendix at Data to reproduce the U.S. analyses are available at; the U.K. data will be archived at later than July 2012.