Battlefield Casualties and Ballot-Box Defeat: Did the Bush–Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?

Battlefield Casualties and Ballot-Box Defeat: Did the Bush–Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?

By Douglas L. Kriner, Cornell University and Francis X. ShenUniversity of Minnesota

In the 2016 election, foreign policy may have played a critically important role in swinging an important constituency to Donald Trump: voters in high-casualty communities that had abandoned Republican candidates in the mid-2000s. Trump’s iconoclastic campaign rhetoric promised a foreign policy that would simultaneously be more muscular and restrained. He promised to rebuild and refocus the military while avoiding the “stupid wars” and costly entanglements of his predecessors. At both the state and county levels, we find significant and substantively meaningful relationships between local casualty rates and support for Trump. Trump made significant electoral gains among constituencies that were exhausted and politically alienated by 18 years of fighting. Trump’s foreign policy shows a president beset by competing militaristic and isolationist impulses. Our results suggest that giving into the former may come at a significant electoral cost.

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