A fragile public preference for cyber strikes: Evidence from survey experiments in the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel

Ryan Shandler, Michael L. Gross, Daphna Canetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To what extent does the public support the use of cyber weapons? We propose that public exposure to the destructive potential of cyber-attacks will dispel the clear cross-national preference for cyber strikes. To test this, we conducted two survey experiments (n = 2,585) that examine support for cyber versus conventional military strikes in the United States, United Kingdom, and Israel. In study 1, we exposed respondents to television news reports depicting various forms of terror attacks, and then measured the subsequent support for retaliatory options. Findings indicate that the high public support for deploying cyber weapons dissipated entirely among respondents exposed to lethal cyber-attacks. In study 2, we probed this vanishing support, finding that exposure to destructive cyber-attacks undercuts the perception of cyber as a less lethal domain, therefore diminishing its appeal. We conclude by discussing how the fragile public preference for cyber weapons encourages military escalation in the short-term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-162
Number of pages28
JournalContemporary Security Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Israel Science Foundation under grant number 594/15; by the Center for Cyber Law and Policy at the University of Haifa in conjunction with the Israel National Cyber Directorate in the Prime Minister?s Office; and the Idit Doctoral Fellowship Program at the University of Haifa. The authors gratefully acknowledge Valentin Vancak and Dana Vashdi for their invaluable assistance in analyzing the research data, and Ofer Ravid for his video production and editing. We extend a heartfelt thank you to Sophia Backhaus and Sharon Matzkin who supported the research efforts from its inception to conclusion, and to Brandon Valeriano and Keren L.G. Snider for offering helpful feedback. Finally, our thanks go to journal editor Hylke Dijkstra for his diligence and guidance. All participants provided written informed consent to participate in the study, and the University of Haifa Ethics Committee approved all experimental procedures (approval number 235/18). The online appendix can be accessed at: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/7C1MGB

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Cyber-attacks
  • cyber escalation
  • cyber warfare
  • foreign policy
  • public opinion
  • terrorism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Political Science and International Relations


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