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Are the American People “Pretty Prudent”? Public Responses to U.S. Uses of Force, 1950–1988

John R. Oneal, Brad Lian, James H. Joyner Jr.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2600959 261-279 First published online: 1 June 1996

Abstract

A new consensus has emerged in recent years that the public responds to foreign affairs in reasonable ways. Bruce Jentleson (1992) has contributed to this optimistic revisionism, arguing that the public is “pretty prudent” in the “post post-Vietnam period.” The American people, he suggests, now discriminate between using the military to force foreign policy restraint on aggressive adversaries and using it to coerce internal political change. We test Jentleson's hypothesis, with several theoretically interesting controls, using regression analyses of all thirty-eight major uses of force that occurred during a U.S. foreign policy crisis, 1950–1988. We do not find support for Jentleson's periodization of the post—World War II era; but our analyses do indicate that the American people have, throughout the postwar years, been more supportive of using military force to resist aggression than to engineer internal change in other countries.

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