Researchers: Casualties Help Shape War Opinion.

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Two Ohio State University communication researchers this week published a study linking news coverage of war casualties in Iraq with support for troop withdrawals.

Communication professor Andrew Hayes says he wanted to gauge public opinion about the Iraq War against reports of casualties. He and study co-author Teresa Myers studied a period between October 2003 and January 2007. He summarizes the findings this way.

“In states where there have been more recent deaths to soldiers in the Iraq war theatre we find a small spike, sort of a willingness to withdraw troops.”

Hayes says reports of war casualties increased support for troop withdrawal by one to four percent but he says the effect is also cumulative.

“One to four percent at any particular window of time doesn’t look like much but when you do that over two or three years, four years, you’re talking about potentially a big effect,” Says Hayes.

Study co-author, communication graduate student, Teresa Myers, says the research adds a dimension to past research that also suggests American support for war declines as casualties mount. She suggests that local reports of casualties get increasing attention as war lengthens.

“So that especially later on in the war a death to a soldier from Ohio is going to get a lot more coverage in Ohio rather than , you know, being maybe just one of a large number of deaths at the national scene so it may not garner as much national coverage.” Says Myers.

While the study examined three years of the Iraq war, associate professor Hayes says the results are relevant as the Obama administration considers adding troops in Afghanistan..

“People react differently to different wars depending on the context, depending on the argument, depending sort of what the lead opinion is and how that’s disseminated. But, there’s no reason to believe that people should be less sensitive to casualties in Afghanistan than they would in Iraq.” Says Hayes.

The research appears in the upcoming issues of the Journal of Mass Communication and Society.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News