Conceptual Grounding and Research Design

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Chapter 3 Conceptual Grounding and Research Design

I expect that U.S. presidents received higher and more stable public support when using the U.S. military in conflicts after the adoption of the AVF in 1973 than they did between 1949 and 1972, even when financial costs and casualties increased. The AVF ended the conscription system to meet the personnel needs of the U.S. military when it was fighting conflicts. The transformation of the conscript military into the AVF meant volunteers instead of draftees would now serve and fight the nation’s conflicts; I expect this to lessen public opposition to U.S. participation in a conflict. In conducting this study, my research explored the presidents, their political party affiliations, casualties, financial costs, and public approval during multiple conflicts (the Korean, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Somalia Civil, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghan, and Iraq wars).
The primary hypothesis is that presidents would have higher and more stable approval levels when using the U.S. military in conflicts after the adoption of the AVF in 1973 than they did between 1949 and 1972. The creation of the AVF made citizen participation in conflicts strictly voluntary without the inconvenience or danger of individuals being potentially drafted to fight and die in combat. If this expectation is accurate, public approval levels would not track casualties or financial costs as closely after the adoption of the AVF as they had before.

Research Design

The thesis employed an interrupted time series design to explore the relationship between presidential use of military force and presidential approval levels before and after adoption of the AVF (from 1949 through 2016). The design examined the AVF as the key interruption of interest by looking to see if the relationship between military involvement and public approval changed after its adoption as well as whether there were changes in the relationship as U.S. casualties and expenditures increase.
The focal conflicts are military operations in which the U.S. government authorized the deployment of American combat forces into a country in order to use lethal force against either state or non-state actors to fulfill political and military objectives. I examined two primary independent variables and one dependent variable, each of which was measured annually. The independent variables are the total number of American casualties (U.S. service members either killed or wounded during hostile or non-hostile actions in a conflict), while the other is the total expense for fighting the conflict, measured in constant 2018 dollars. The dependent variable is public support of the president for keeping U.S. military forces involved in the conflict. This variable is tapped based on the percentage of the American public who answered positively to Gallup Poll questions regarding the use of U.S. military force in a conflict. Although I expect that the number of casualties and financial expenses incurred in a conflict to affect the public’s support of the president as Commander-in-Chief in the conflict, the AVF loosened the ties between the public and the military, making casualties and financial costs less salient because of their weakening relationship with public approval of military involvement. I look at these relationships over time, noting whether and how presidential approval changed during the course of a conflict.
By doing a comparative analysis of how views of military conflict changes over time, I expect the relationships to reflect that public support for a president to be lower before the introduction of the AVF. Moreover, the decline in public support of the president during a conflict will be more gradual before eventually stabilizing after the AVF compared to when conscription was in place.
In addition to the primary hypothesis are several related hypotheses. After the adoption of the AVF in 1973, the relationship between the president’s use of military force and public support for U.S. involvement in a conflict will vary with financial expenditures: after 1973, the relationship will be more negative as financial expenditures increase beyond two years of the advent of U.S. involvement because of the American people’s impatience in supporting the U.S. military to fight and win conflicts. More generally, the expense of deploying and supporting the U.S. military in conflicts might create public perceptions of military spending that deploying the military in combat had negative effects on the U.S. economy. With the U.S. conscription force arguably being cheaper than the AVF, it may be that the public’s support for a president’s decision to use the military in a conflict is influenced more by financial costs than by personnel losses. The hypotheses are:

  • From 1949 through 2016, as financial costs of military involvement increase, presidential support decreases.
  • From 1949 through 2016, as the number of casualties increase, presidential support decreases.
  • Starting in 1973, as financial costs increase, presidential support decreases, but as casualties increase, presidential support remains stable.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Literature Review
Chapter 3: Conceptual Grounding and Research Design
Chapter 4: Findings
Chapter 5: Conclusion
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The All-Volunteer Force and Presidential Use of Military Force

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