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Public Opinion and Crisis Behavior in a Nuclearized South Asia

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Research on public opinion and crisis behavior has focused on pressures felt by leaders that have initiated a crisis, not on leaders in target states responding to adversary provocation. Our survey experiment involving 1,823 respondents in Pakistan’s Punjab province, finds public support for escalating rather than de-escalating such a crisis. It shows how public pressures can encourage conflict even in instances where a leader has engaged in no prior effort to generate audience costs following crisis onset. Survey respondents were also more likely to support escalatory decisions if they were made by a military, rather than civilian, leader, although we do not find that military leaders receive more support in de-escalatory decisions. Finally, while we demonstrate that leaders can mitigate the costs of de-escalating by highlighting the dangers of conflict, they still incur substantial opportunity costs in foregone public support when they opt to de-escalate rather than escalate a crisis.

Gallup Pakistan was responsible for sample design and fieldwork for this study.

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