Breaking Bad? How Survey Experiments Prime Americans for War Crimes
By Charli Carpenter, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Alexander H. Montgomery, Reed College, and Alexandria Nylen, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
What affects Americans’ sensitivity to international laws and norms on the use of force? A wealth of recent IR literature tackles this question through experimental surveys using fictional scenarios and treatments to explore precisely when Americans would approve of government policies that would violate the laws of war. We test whether such survey experiments may themselves be affecting public sensitivity to these norms—or even Americans’ understanding of the content of the norms themselves. We show that being invited to express a preference regarding war crimes in survey settings has a negative impact on Americans’ understanding of US legal and ethical obligations in war and that reporting previous findings can inflate support for war crimes. We conclude with suggestions for future experimental survey design in international relations and international law.