Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Political Science

First Advisor

Conor M. Dowling

Second Advisor

John M. Bruce

Third Advisor

Jonathan D. Klingler

Relational Format



After military service is over, veterans are left to try to acclimate to their new lives. They take the lessons learned through their military career and they apply it to their daily life. One area of veteran life that remains understudied is the way that military service, combat experience specifically, alters political attitudes and behavior. The main focus of this dissertation is to understand the way that military combat alters political attitudes among military veterans. Instead of analyzing military veterans as one homogenous group, I separate veterans by combat experience. Building from the military psychology literature on combat trauma, I develop a new measure of combat experience that conceptualizes the different facets of witnessing military combat. To empirically test for the associations between my new measure of combat experience and political attitudes, I fielded an original survey of 1000 civilians and an oversample of 200 military veterans to test military veterans’ social identity, foreign policy attitudes, and trust in government. The findings show that military veterans who witness traumatic combat events are more likely to identify as a veteran, hold less hawkish foreign policy attitudes than non-combat veterans and civilians, and that military veterans have more trust in government than do civilians. These findings provide evidence that experiencing military combat can alter the political attitudes of military veterans.



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