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Ain’t No Fortunate Son: The Political Calculus of Conscription

Atkinson, Douglas B.; Fahey, Kevin

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Douglas B. Atkinson

Assistant Professor in Political Science


Do the electoral incentives of political leaders influence who is compelled to serve in the military? We argue that conscription policy is designed by political actors who care about winning elections. In wartime, politicians face the twin threats of military and electoral defeat. Therefore, they will shield swing communities, who hold considerable sway over the outcome of elections, from some costs of military service. We leverage a novel database of 9.2 million U.S. service-members during World War II. We find that counties that narrowly voted for President Roosevelt and Democratic members of Congress had substantially fewer conscripts in the Army during 1942, 1943, and 1945. Substantively, 139,000 fewer soldiers—six times the number of soldiers who landed at Normandy—were enlisted from swing counties than expected. Our findings imply that democratic leaders do not want to lose re-election during wartime, and in doing so sacrifice democratic norms of fairness.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 27, 2022
Online Publication Date Sep 24, 2022
Publication Date 2022-09
Deposit Date Sep 16, 2022
Publicly Available Date Sep 24, 2022
Journal Political Research Quarterly
Print ISSN 1065-9129
Electronic ISSN 1938-274X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 76
Issue 3
Pages 1151-1167
Keywords Conscription, World War II, Military Service
Public URL
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