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Militarization and Perceptions of Law Enforcement in the Developing World: Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment in Mexico

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2021

Gustavo Flores-Macías
Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences, Ithaca, NY, USA
Jessica Zarkin*
Cornell University College of Arts and Sciences, Ithaca, NY, USA
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


Although a growing body of research suggests that the constabularization of the military for domestic policing is counterproductive, this increasingly prevalent policy has nonetheless enjoyed widespread support in the developing world. This study advances our understanding of the consequences of militarization for perceptions of law enforcement: whether visual features shape perceptions of effectiveness, respect for civil liberties, proclivity for corruption and acceptance of militarization in one's own neighborhood. Based on a nationally representative, image-based, conjoint experiment conducted in Mexico, the authors find that military weapons and uniforms enhance perceptions of effectiveness and respect for civil liberties, and that the effect of military uniform becomes greater with increased military presence. The study also finds that gender shapes perceptions of civil liberties and corruption, but detects no effect for skin color. The findings suggest that a central feature of militarization linked to greater violence – military weapons – is paradoxically a key factor explaining favorable attitudes, and that women can play a crucial role in improving perceptions of law enforcement.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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