Public Attitudes toward Private Military Companies: Insights from Principal–agent Theory



This article examines the distribution and correlates of mass attitudes toward the
privatization of US military operations. Relying on insights from principal–agent theory,
we form predictions about what beliefs are associated with a willingness to grant
authority over military operations to private military companies (PMCs). The model
predicts that citizens’ beliefs about actor motives, accountability, and costs are
associated with attitudes toward PMCs. Using a nationally representative survey, we find
that beliefs about the profit-oriented motives of private firms and perceptions of their
lack of accountability reduce support for the use of PMCs, particularly in combat
operations. By contrast, belief in private firms’ superior fiscal efficiency increases
support for utilizing PMCs in both combat and noncombat operations. The results illustrate
the usefulness of principle-agent theory for understanding mass attitudes and help to
improve the field’s understanding of the contours of public attitudes toward US defense
Date made available2018
Publisherfigshare SAGE Publications

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