Controlling Civilians? Examining Support for the Military in Colombia

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Miguel García-Sánchez
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ESOC Working Paper No. 3

Studies of civil conflict show that insurgencies require social support from civilians to prosper. But these studies’ findings are inconsistent with survey data from many conflict contexts, which routinely show consistently strong support for the counterinsurgents, even in areas of insurgent success. How can we explain this discrepancy? This study builds on the intuition that individuals may feel social pressure, and even fear, that encourages them to report consistently strong support for the military when asked directly—but that this pressure lessens when asked indirectly in a way that allows individuals to conceal their response. Support for the military should thus be lower when measured indirectly than directly, and the difference should be largest where individuals rely on an illegal organization or an illicit activity for their livelihood. We test the theory by randomizing direct and indirect survey questions—specifically a list experiment—in a face-to-face survey conducted in Colombia.