International Law, Constitutional Law, and Public Support for Torture
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
The human rights movement has spent considerable energy developing and promoting the adoption of both international and domestic legal prohibitions against torture. Empirical scholarship testing the effectiveness of these prohibitions using observational data, however, has produced mixed results. In this paper, we explore one possible mechanism through which these prohibitions may be effective: dampening public support for torture. Specifically, we conducted a survey experiment to explore the impact of international and constitutional law on public support for torture. We found that a bare majority of respondents in our control group support the use of torture, and that presenting respondents with arguments that this practice violates international law or constitutional law did not produce a statistically significant decrease in support. These findings are consistent with prior research suggesting, even in democracies, that legal prohibitions on torture have been ineffective.