What do ordinary citizens think about political violence and does it matter? The study of violent political conflict ? e.g., civil war, terrorism, violent protest or international wars -- has explored the different causes of political violence, with a focus on the rational motivations or emotive responses of elites and populations. But, the systematic empirical study of political violence has largely ignored the moral beliefs about political violence among citizens. Examples of such moral beliefs are ?it is wrong to beat up a political opponent?, or ?it is always right to take up arms in defense of one?s country?. Researchers often make assumptions about such moral beliefs, for example when assuming that there is a low tolerance for political violence in peaceful societies and vice versa in war torn countries.
This project wants to study when and under what conditions citizens condone or condemn political violence, and on what moral grounds. It also wants to explore how these moral beliefs among citizens affect actual political violence in different societies. We will make three innovations to address these questions. First, we will develop a concept of ?moral beliefs about political violence?, and a new survey-experimental template for measuring this concept. Second, we will develop and test a theory of how moral beliefs about political violence are formed and evolve in societies.
Third, we will conduct surveys in different societies to explore how these moral beliefs vary within and between countries. Finally, the project will investigate whether within- and between-country variation in moral beliefs about political violence predict actual occurrences of political violence.
Political violence within states is a global humanitarian burden. In the past century, armed political violence has drastically declined in some places, while it persists in others. Why? Current research identifies income growth, democracy and economic and political inclusion as drivers of peace. But, many countries experience persistent rates of political violence despite great income growth, improvements in democracy and political inclusion (such as India over the past 20 years), and some countries (such as Mongolia) remain remarkably peaceful despite widespread poverty, frail political institutions, and lingering social grievances. MoViCon proposes a new theory to solve these puzzles, focusing on a factor that has hitherto been neglected by comparative conflict researchers: Citizen’ moral beliefs about political violence. MoViCon will provide a new scientific explanation for political violence within states, focusing on moral beliefs about political violence held by citizen populations. The project will develop a new concept of moral beliefs about political violence, and a new scheme to measure this empirically using survey experiments in different countries. It will develop and test theories of how such moral beliefs are formed and change over time, and of how moral beliefs in populations affect actual levels of observed political violence. MoViCon will provide a new understanding of how moral beliefs about political violence change, are shaped, and how they contribute to conflict. Such an understanding will improve early warnings of where political violence is likely to occur, and refine our understanding of existing conflicts to better diagnose underlying drivers and prescribe pathways to peace. Finally, it will enable policy actors in the international community to target moral beliefs (among citizens) in their efforts to build peace around the world, through attitudinal campaigns and related interventions.