How Do Americans Really Feel About Torture?

Opinion on torture

Paul Gronke, Darius Rejali, and Peter Miller challenge the conventional wisdom:

Our analysis, which is summarized in our 2010 paper, is that the American political and media elite badly overestimated public support for torture, especially in the early years of the war on terror and after the publicized events at Abu Ghraib. In this piece, we argued that the political and media elite came to false consensus. This is a coping mechanism long known to psychologists whereby we project our views onto others. We developed unique survey items that clearly showed widespread projection effects regarding torture, especially among those who were most supportive of these techniques.

Brittany Lyte is correct that public support has trended upwards, albeit slowly, since 2004, but those data are pretty steady since 2010. … Furthermore, when Americans are asked about specific techniques that Senator John McCain says have “dubious efficacy” and “risk our national honor,” public support is far lower. A table from our 2010 paper, reproduced below, shows that 81% oppose electric shock, 58-81% oppose waterboarding, 84-89% oppose sexual humiliation, etc.