Attracting hawks or creating them? The role of television news in building support
for the war in Iraq1
Previous research found a positive relationship between viewing television news and
support for war during the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict. But scholars were uncertain about
the direction of causality. Did the heightened visual drama conveyed by television news
build support for war? Or were those who already supported war more inclined to tune in
and watch it unfold on television? I test these premises using two waves of cross-
sectional survey data from the Elon University Poll, a statewide poll in North Carolina.
Viewership of television news did not increase appreciably from November 2002, as the
United States prepared for another war with Iraq, to late April and early May 2003, as
major combat wound down. Viewing television news was not related to support for use
of military force in November 2002, but was related to support for the war in April 2003.
Frequent viewers of television news in April 2003 also were more likely to favor using
force against Iran and Syria. Exposure to local and national newspapers and radio
newscasts did not have similar effects. The effects of television news also were most
pronounced for those who were low in political sophistication. The evidence suggests
that television news coverage helps to build support for war, as opposed to drawing
viewers who already favor the use of military force.
1 Prepared for delivery at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science
Association, New Orleans, LA, Jan. 8-11, 2004. Address inquiries to Timothy Vercellotti,
Department of Political Science, Elon University, Campus Box 2175, Elon, NC 27244.
Scholars contend that news coverage, particularly television news coverage, of
war can influence public opinion concerning war. As a conflict heats up and the prospect
of military involvement increases, so does consump