Societal gaps in attitudes regarding conscription: the case of Estonia
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While many countries have replaced conscription with professional voluntary armies, some have retained it. In democratic countries public opinion is essential for policymaking, this applies also for security and defence policies. There are only few countries where public opinion towards conscription has been studied continuously over time, Estonia being one of them. When examining public support for conscription it is also important to look into differences in public opinion among different societal groups over time. The objective of the thesis was to explore whether and how attitudes towards conscription vary across different social groups as well as over time, and to offer and evaluate possible explanations for why these variations exist. This thesis develops and tests four hypotheses focusing on differences between societal groups in Estonia in their attitudes towards conscript service, using a multimethod design. The quantitative data was extracted from three opinion surveys and the qualitative data was extracted from nine expert interviews with a purpose to find possible explanations to those existing differences. The empirical results show that even when attitude among the general public of Estonia towards conscript service is highly supportive, gaps exist between younger and older generations, Estonian and Russian-speaking residents, and between conscripts and general population. The results of expert interviews suggest that possible explanations for variations across age groups include different threat perceptions among younger and older generations. A possible reason for the variation between conscripts and general population is that those young people who are conscripted have their own ‘skin in the game’ and their freedom is constrained. Reasons why variations exist among people with different language of communication are language barriers and different information spaces.
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