When do Americans support the government’s use of torture? We argue that perceptions of threat undermine the extent to which American public opinion serves as a bulwark against government torture. Although surveys demonstrate that a slim majority of the American public generally opposes torture, using a nationally-representative survey experiment, we show that Americans are considerably more supportive of government abuse when it is directed at individuals who they perceive as threatening: specifically, when a detainee has an Arabic name and when the alleged crime is terrorism. Given the malleability of public opinion as a potential constraint on abuse, our results underscore the importance of institutional protections of human rights.
- Human rights
- Public opinion
- Survey experiment
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science