War casualties, policy positions, and the fate of legislators

Scott Sigmund Gartner, Gary M. Segura, Bethany A. Barratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Politicians appear to anticipate that the public will hold them accountable for war deaths. Yet, little is known about why some politicians openly oppose costly conflicts while others do not and the difference this makes to their electoral fortunes. Examining U.S. Senate elections from 1966-1972, we find that state-level casualties, military experience, and a variety of other factors affect candidate positions on the Vietnam War. Challenger and incumbent positions are negatively related, suggesting that strategic considerations play a role in wartime policy formation. We also find that war plays a role in elections. Incumbents from states that experience higher casualties receive a smaller percentage of the vote, an effect ameliorated when the incumbent opposes the war and his or her opponent does not. Wartime casualties, we conclude, influence both the perceived cost of the war and its salience, affecting both candidate positions and elections, suggesting that selectorate/electorate-type arguments about war and domestic politics can apply to the US system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-477
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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