Threat, dehumanization, and support for retaliatory aggressive policies in asymmetric conflict

Ifat Maoz*, Clark McCauley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Public opinion can permit or encourage retaliatory aggressive state policies against vulnerable but threatening out-groups. The authors present a model in which public support for such policies is determined by perceived threat from and dehumanization of the target group. This two-factor model predicts Israeli Jews' support for two retaliatory aggressive policies: the more hypothetical notion of Palestinian population transfer and concrete, coercive actions toward Palestinians. The authors find (1) that threat and dehumanization are distinct constructs, each having unique contributions to explaining support for aggressive retaliatory policies, (2) that threat and dehumanization significantly explain support for aggressive retaliatory policies when respondents' hawkishness, socioeconomic status (SES), and education level are taken into account, and (3) that the association of hawkishness and SES with support for aggressive retaliatory policies is largely mediated by threat perception. Results are highly consistent across two studies, suggesting the two-factor model may be useful for understanding support for aggressive action in situations of asymmetric conflict.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)93-116
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Conflict Resolution
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2008


  • Asymmetric conflict
  • Dehumanization
  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict
  • Perceived threat
  • Public opinion


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