Threat Perception and American Support for Torture

Courtenay R. Conrad, Sarah E. Croco, Brad T. Gomez, Will H. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)989-1009
Number of pages21
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018


  • Human rights
  • Public opinion
  • Survey experiment
  • Torture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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