When state armed forces engage in violence against civilians during civil wars, why do some citizens continue to support the government? I argue that individuals’ support for the state in such contexts is shaped by the interplay between their perceptions of violence, governance and ideology. Drawing on research concerning motivated reasoning, I suggest that ideological similarity with and effective governance from the state can alleviate the negative effect of military violence against civilians on support for the state and, conversely, augment the positive effect of insurgent abuse on attitudes toward the government. Analysis of seven years of surveys fielded by the Latin American Public Opinion Project in Colombia between 2005 and 2011 suggests that individuals’ responses to victimization by the state’s armed forces depend on whether the individuals are ideologically aligned with the state. More specifically, among people who have an ideology similar to that of the president, military victimization has a less negative effect on support for the armed forces and for the national government. There is also mixed evidence that the quality of state governance, particularly the provision of security from crime, shapes the ways people respond to victimization. While existing studies primarily focus on the effects of either violence or governance on attitudes toward the state, these findings indicate that a more complete theory of why people support governments which engage in violence against civilians requires an understanding of not only violence but also of governance and ideology.
This was originally published on SAGE Publications Ltd: Journal of Peace Research: Table of Contents.