Politicizing war information, democracy, and public opinion
Nicoletti, Nicholas P.
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I develop a theory of electorate belief formation during war. I analyze a formal model which depicts the electorate's decision to retain the incumbent based on two distinct elite signals; the first signal—from the media—is unbiased but potentially inaccurate and the second—from the opposition party—is potentially biased but accurate. If the public were to receive correct information about the state of the war from an unbiased media and the opposition were to advocate a course of action that the public would not favor if it knew the true state of affairs, is it possible that they would nonetheless replace the incumbent with the opposition? I seek to demonstrate that this scenario is in fact possible by analyzing a formal model of wartime elections. The main theoretical finding demonstrates that, even under conditions favorable to democracy, tragic outcomes are possible. It is possible for the incumbent to be disposed, ending a war that was likely to succeed. The same process can also lead to the election of the opposition party which continues to fight a war that is likely to fail. The latter theoretical expectation is tested using an original experimental and a cross-sectional survey design with data from the 2008 ANES U.S. presidential election.