Race, Casualties, and Opinion in the Vietnam War



The wartime roles of race and public opinion represent contested issues in the growing literature on war and domestic politics, especially in studies of the Vietnam War. We develop a “modified sociotropic” approach that allows us to examine three sets of propositions about the influence of race on individual opinion of the Vietnam War. (1) The race of citizens affects their opinion. (2) The race of respondents influences their sensitivity to casualties. (3) A citizen is more sensitive to casualties from his or her own racial group and less sensitive to casualties of other groups. We test these propositions with data from eight pooled surveys of 6,300 Californians during the Vietnam War and racially disaggregated proximate wartime casualties. We find that African-Americans do not differ significantly from whites in their approval early on, but are significantly less likely to support the war in the latter stages. However, both whites and blacks largely react similarly to proximate casualties, whether or not they share racial traits with the casualties. People's attitudes are influenced by the number of people that die in their locality, but neither the race of the respondent nor the combination of the respondent's race and that of the local casualties significantly modifies that relationship.