How many deaths in Iraq is too many?

That's the provocative question posed by my friends Bill Boettcher and Mike Cobb in their research.  They hit the big time today, page A2 of the Washington Post in Shankar Vedantam's Depatment of Human Behavior column.  Having grown up reading the Post every day (and still doing so on-line) and being a fan of Vedantam's column, I am officially jealous (just don't tell Cobb).  Anyway, here are the highlights of the column:

William Boettcher and Michael Cobb have a question for you: What is the
exact number of U.S. troops you are willing to see die in Iraq?…

For one thing, most people don't keep close track of the death toll in
an ongoing war. When Boettcher and Cobb conducted a national poll in
September and asked people how many troops had died to that point in
Iraq, nearly two-thirds of Americans were off by more than 20 percent.
The current U.S. death toll in Iraq is a little more than 2,900.

The column than addresses a bit of an academic debate between Boettcher and Cobb and two Duke professors, Christopher Gelpi and Peter Feaver (who, not that any one cares, was my adviser for a single semester at Duke).  For me, my pals win the argument.  Here's the key summary:

Boettcher thinks partisan loyalties play a powerful role in shaping how people think about casualties.

“Casualty
unacceptability is only somewhat related to the number of actual
casualties,” Boettcher and Cobb said in a joint e-mail. “If you oppose
the war, dislike President Bush, are a Democrat, would like to increase
troops, would like to decrease troops etc… you may find casualties
unacceptable without having any knowledge of the actual number.”

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