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How news photos sway support for foreign wars

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The issue: The media plays a well-documented role shaping public opinion and policy preferences. In a democracy, it is generally important that a government have public support before engaging in a foreign ground war.

Today public support is again an issue in nations that are fighting to destroy the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS), including Canada. Canada has been involved in a number of recent conflicts, including the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. At least 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan, according to government statistics, putting Canada’s per capita losses on par with America’s.

An academic study worth reading: “The Impact of News Photos on Support for Military Action,” in Political Communication, October 2016.

Study summary: Stuart Soroka of the University of Michigan and his colleagues design two experiments to test how different types of war photographs impact Canadians’ support for foreign interventions.

In the first, 767 Canadian adults responded to a question about their support for the Afghanistan war after randomly viewing one of two photos (at left): “The first photo evokes the military as a peacekeeping and development force. The second evokes the military as a war-making force. Importantly, the first photo is not of a non-military actor engaged in peacekeeping. Instead, a soldier is prominent in both photos, allowing us to focus on the effects of different military roles.”

The question was straightforward: “The Canadian military will continue to be involved in Afghanistan for the next several years. Do you support or oppose this?”

Finally, respondents were asked to assess their own “attentiveness to foreign affairs.” 



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