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Targeted Assassinations and the Tribalized Electorate

• February 19, 2013 • 11:51 AM

Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler has written extensively about the ways racial resentment shapes opinions about the Obama presidency. His latest research, reported by Joan Walsh in Salon, suggests this dynamic extends even into the realm of military policy.

Tesler has found that people who are liberal on racial issues are much more likely to support the targeted killing of terrorists overseas if they are told it’s an Obama policy. Specifically, only 27 percent of people in this category expressed general support for such actions, but that number jumped to 48 percent among those who were told that Obama OKd such killings.

“Some of the very people who might be expected to raise objections to such moves are instead accepting them because they are made by Obama, and they like and trust him,” Walsh writes. While that’s understandable, she adds, it is also disturbing, in that we are “a country that is supposed to be governed by laws above men.”

The study provides more evidence for the thesis of another political scientist, Lilliana Mason, which we described last fall. Mason argues that the electorate is becoming increasingly tribal. Our party affiliation is increasingly intertwined with our personal identity, making us more prone than ever to support the policies of “our side,” regardless of their actual content.

Logically speaking, whether one has moral qualms about targeted killings should have nothing to do with who, specifically, is giving the go-ahead on such actions. But this report provides more evidence that when it comes to a wide range of policy issues, our views seem driven more by loyalty than by logic.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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