Public Attitudes toward Private Military Companies: Insights from Principal–agent Theory
This article examines the distribution and correlates of mass attitudes toward the privatization of US military operations. Relying on insights from principal–agent theory, we form predictions about what beliefs are associated with a willingness to grant authority over military operations to private military companies (PMCs). The model predicts that citizens’ beliefs about actor motives, accountability, and costs are associated with attitudes toward PMCs. Using a nationally representative survey, we find that beliefs about the profit-oriented motives of private firms and perceptions of their lack of accountability reduce support for the use of PMCs, particularly in combat operations. By contrast, belief in private firms’ superior fiscal efficiency increases support for utilizing PMCs in both combat and noncombat operations. The results illustrate the usefulness of principle-agent theory for understanding mass attitudes and help to improve the field’s understanding of the contours of public attitudes toward US defense policy.