Are Voters Sensitive to Terrorism?

Direct Evidence from the Israeli Electorate

Published in: American Political Science Review, v. 102, no. 3, Aug. 2008, p. 279-301

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2008

by Claude Berrebi, Esteban F. Klor

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This article relies on the variation of terror attacks across time and space as an instrument to identify the causal effects of terrorism on the preferences of the Israeli electorate. The authors find that the occurrence of a terror attack in a given locality within three months of the elections causes an increase of 1.35 percentage points on that locality's support for the right bloc of political parties out of the two blocs vote. This effect is of a significant political magnitude because of the high level of terrorism in Israel and the fact that its electorate is closely split between the right and left blocs. Moreover, a terror fatality has important electoral effects beyond the locality where the attack is perpetrated, and its electoral impact is stronger the closer to the elections it occurs. Interestingly, in left-leaning localities, local terror fatalities cause an increase in the support for the right bloc, whereas terror fatalities outside the locality increase the support for the left bloc of parties. Given that a relatively small number of localities suffer terror attacks, the authors demonstrate that terrorism does cause the ideological polarization of the electorate. Overall, their analysis provides strong empirical support for the hypothesis that the electorate shows a highly sensitive reaction to terrorism.

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