Changing Horses Midstream: Leadership Turnover and War Outcomes

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigator:

Sarah E. Croco

University of Maryland



Sample size: 1006

Field period: 7/13/2007-7/26/2007


This experiment examines how citizens evaluate leaders who have inherited costly international conflicts from their predecessors. The central argument of the project is that a newly elected leader will be granted considerable leniency from the electorate in the event of a bad outcome if: 1) She has always been opposed to the state’s involvement in the conflict; or 2) She is from a different party than the leader who initiated the conflict. By contrast, a leader who inherits a war initiated by a fellow party member or a war that he supported since initiation will face an electorate that will be less forgiving should the conflict end without a clear win. This second type of leader will be held more accountable for the conflict’s outcome because of the “guilt by association” that stems from his earlier support of the previous leader’s decision or the shared partisan affiliation.


H1: Citizens are more likely to disapprove of a leader who proposes withdrawal if that leader supported the war at initiation than if the leader has always been opposed to the war.

H2: Citizens should be more likely to disapprove of a Republican who proposes withdrawal than a Democrat.

H3: Citizens should be most likely to disapprove of a leader proposing withdrawal when he is a Republican who supported the war and least likely to disapprove when the he is Democrat who always opposed the war.

Experimental Manipulations

I manipulate the Senator's party and his earlier position on the war.


Assessment of Senator's "responsibility". (Primary DV)
Approval of Senator.
Assessment of Senator's "strength of leadership".
Assessment of Senator's "international credibility".

Summary of Results

Republicans who voted for the war when it began are held most responsible; Republicans who voted *against* the war were held equally responsible as Democrats who voted for it; Democrats who voted against it were held least responsible.


Croco, Sarah. 2006. "Changing Horses Midstream: Domestic Politics and War Termination." Paper presented at the Second Annual Journeys in International Relations Conference, Iowa City, IA and the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL.

For any updates on working papers, please contact Sarah Croco at