Journal of Conflict Resolution, Ahead of Print.
How does targeting in armed conflict affect public opinion in conflict zones? Armed actors choose between targeting militaries and civilians, further choosing whether to target civilians discriminately or indiscriminately. Existing work suggests these choices have important implications for conflict dynamics, in part by influencing public opinion, yet the causal effects of these choices on individual attitudes have not been clearly established. We conduct a survey experiment in the Donbas region of Ukraine, an area that has witnessed years of protracted fighting. We find that reports of civilian targeting robustly reduce approval of both the government and separatist forces. However, we find that the effects of discriminate civilian targeting are not statistically distinguishable from those of indiscriminate civilian targeting. Finally, we find that our respondents generally preferred a restrained, rather than reciprocal, response from actors in this armed conflict. We explain the implications of our findings for theories of wartime violence.