Sigma: Journal of Political and International Studies


Sam Williams


Iraq, United States, war, public opinion


War is often thought to be a cause-and-effect dichotomy. Rather than taking a holistic view of war through examination of short-term fluctuations against macrolevel trends, historians often instead define armed conflict by a singular, decisive event and the differing responses and ramifications which stem from it. It is tempting, then, to do the same with public opinion about war: If the nature and ultimate result of a conflict stems from a collection of individual pivotal events, it is natural to think there would also be critical shifts in public opinion corresponding to these decisive events. U.S. military campaigns that are both long enough and significant enough to measure general military, political, and social trends against public opinion over an extended period of time are rare. As a result, the relationship between public opinion shifts and the factors that cause them is still not fully developed. The protracted military involvement of the U.S. in Iraq beginning in the early 2000s provides a valuable case study to examine. The wealth of opinion data and news coverage surrounding the Iraq conflict offers a unique opportunity to consider whether events or patterns truly led to public opinion decline. More generally, the comparative study of public opinion trends and war-related events may illuminate fundamental relationships between the two. If previously unexplored relationships are found to be significant in the context of the Iraq War, this exercise can help explain public opinion behavior during other wars.