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Human or not? Political rhetoric and foreign policy attitudes

Stephen M. Utych

Political Science Research and Methods, 2022, vol. 10, issue 3, 642-650

Abstract: When the United States intervenes in foreign countries, the lives of both foreign combatants and foreign civilians are put at risk. I examine two rhetorical strategies, the use of sanitized and dehumanizing language that can influence the public's support of foreign intervention. In the context of foreign policy, sanitized language operates by obscuring casualties of war, while dehumanizing language operates by devaluing the lives of groups of individuals. Drawing on data from two experiments, I find that sanitized language operates through creating less of an emotional reaction toward casualties of war, which causes individuals to adopt more hawkish foreign policy attitudes. I find that dehumanizing language also leads to more hawkish foreign policy attitudes, but, contrary to expectations, does not lead to increased disgust or anger toward dehumanized groups.

Date: 2022
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