The Dover test is an informal test and a journalistic phrase to describe whether the general population of the United States is supporting the participation of the United States in a war or other military action by the public reaction to returning war casualties. The test is usually used to support a partisan position concerning the United States government's actions than to actually determine the level of public support for the war.
The test's name refers to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware in the United States. The base is home to the Department of Defense's Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs. 50,000 U.S. casualties have arrived at this airport since 1955. The earliest use of the term "Dover test" so far found was uttered by Senator John Glenn (D-Ohio) in 1994. The Dover test was also explicitly mentioned by Gen. Hugh Shelton in 1999, and again on January 19 2000 when he said:
...(M)ust be subjected to what I call the 'Dover test.' Is the American public prepared for the sight of our most precious resource coming home in flag-draped caskets into Dover Air Force Base in Delaware – which is a point entry for our Armed Forces?
The Dover test is not a formal test, and the consequences are difficult to measure. Some say that certain deduction from the tests can be attained, though. If the United States population continues to support the war after the news coverage, then the US government has passed the Dover test, and continued warfare probably does not reduce the popularity of the government.
If the United States population does not continue to support the war, then the government has failed the test, and continued warfare may reduce the popularity of the government. Differing factions may use reactions to the results to further their own motives. Subsequently, the test is used more often to support someone's opinion or to question government actions than to actually determine the level of public support for the war.
In the first Iraq War, the government banned media outlets from showing any returning deceased at Dover.