American presidents, their personal and psychological characteristics, and their uses of military force

Lichtenberg, Brendan
Major Professor
Mark D. Nieman
Committee Member
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Political Science
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Political Science

The decision by American Presidents to use military force is a decision that is not taken lightly nor whimsically. This study attempted to determine whether any personal or psychological characteristics influence the President’s decision to use military force or to refrain from using military force. While other factors could influence the President’s decision, I believed that individual factors including personal and psychological characteristics would be able to most effectively explain the use of military force. Uses of military force were collected from a Congressional Research Service report listing all uses of military force from 1798 to 2015. The uses of force by each President were then cross-tabulated with the individual factors I was investigating. Based on the previous findings by Michael C. Horowitz, Allan C. Stam, and Cali M. Ellis that showed correlation between a leader’s personal experiences and the use of military force, I hypothesized that there would be similar findings among American Presidents. The results show that individual factors and personal characteristics may give little indication or its effects are overstated as to whether a President is more prone to use military force or less prone to use military force. Many of the results contradict existing literature, but due to the small sample size of American presidencies the results may not be truly representative. At best, it can be inferred that American Presidents aren’t as significantly affected by individual factors and personal characteristics compared to other world leaders and that other factors of explanation hold equal importance. Future research areas that may merit investigation include Presidential verbal syntax and operational coding.