American Political Science Review

Research Article

Explaining Support for Combatants during Wartime: A Survey Experiment in Afghanistan


a1 Yale University

a2 Princeton University

a3 Princeton University


How are civilian attitudes toward combatants affected by wartime victimization? Are these effects conditional on which combatant inflicted the harm? We investigate the determinants of wartime civilian attitudes towards combatants using a survey experiment across 204 villages in five Pashtun-dominated provinces of Afghanistan—the heart of the Taliban insurgency. We use endorsement experiments to indirectly elicit truthful answers to sensitive questions about support for different combatants. We demonstrate that civilian attitudes are asymmetric in nature. Harm inflicted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is met with reduced support for ISAF and increased support for the Taliban, but Taliban-inflicted harm does not translate into greater ISAF support. We combine a multistage sampling design with hierarchical modeling to estimate ISAF and Taliban support at the individual, village, and district levels, permitting a more fine-grained analysis of wartime attitudes than previously possible.


c1 Jason Lyall is Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520 ([email protected]),

c2 Graeme Blair is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544 ([email protected]),

c3 Kosuke Imai is Professor, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544 ([email protected]),


  An unabbreviated version of this article won the Pi Sigma Alpha award for the best paper presented at the 2012 Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting and is available at the authors’ websites. We thank the Opinion Research Center of Afghanistan (ORCA), and especially Rafiq Kakar, Abdul Nabi Barekzai, Mr. Soor Gul, Zabihullah Usmani, and Mr. Asadi, along with district managers and the 149 enumerators who conducted the survey, for helpful feedback and excellent work under trying conditions. Our program manager, Prakhar Sharma, deserves special thanks. We also thank Will Bullock, Sarah Chayes, Jeff Checkel, Christina Davis, Dan Gingerich, Don Green, Betsy Levy Paluck, and Abbey Steele, along with two APSR editors and three anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on an earlier version. The survey instruments, pretest data, or earlier versions of the article benefited from feedback from seminar participants at George Washington University, Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Ohio State University, University of California San Diego, the Juan March Institute, the University of British Columbia, Cornell University, Harvard University, Princeton University, and the University of Washington. Financial support for the survey from Yale's Institute for Social and Policy Studies's Field Experiment Initiative and the Macmillan Center for International and Area Studies is gratefully acknowledged. Additional support from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Lyall; Grant No. FA9550-09-1-0314) and the National Science Foundation (Imai; Grant No. SES–0849715) is also acknowledged. This research was approved by Yale's Human Subjects Committee under IRB protocol no. 1006006952. In the Appendix we present further details about the survey and analyses, and replication materials are available at