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University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
Sample size: 1339
Field period: 3/21/2008-3/31/2008
We examine how changes in perceptions of threat affect individuals’ policy views, as well as the political implications of this relationship. We administered a survey experiment to a representative sample of the U.S. population in which we exogenously manipulated individuals’ perceived likelihood of a future terrorist attack on American soil and assessed subsequent changes in support for terrorism-related public policies. We find that perceived threat substantially increases support for policies intended to reduce terrorism and that this effect is concentrated among Democrats who believe another terrorist attack is likely to occur. These results suggest that increased levels of threat following September 11th may have assisted the Bush Administration in building a bipartisan coalition for its anti-terrorism policies by attracting individuals whose predispositions may have otherwise precluded their support. More broadly, our findings demonstrate how political elites can leverage and manipulate threat to bridge partisan divisions.
Hypothesis 1: Information indicating a higher perceived threat from a terrorist attack will make individuals more supportive of public policies designed to combat terrorism.
Hypothesis 2: The effect of threat information on support for public policies designed to combat terrorism will be stronger among Democrats who believe an attack is likely.
As the main treatment, we presented respondents with a brief statement about findings from an actual survey of arms control experts conducted by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Respondents were asked to read the following passage, in which we manipulated the information respondents received about the percentage chance (X) of a terrorist attack: Assisting the government in preparing for a potential terrorist attack, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee surveyed a group of arms control experts about the likelihood of a terrorist attack on American soil. Based on an analysis of the responses, the experts concluded that there is a [X]% chance that there will be a damaging terrorist attack in the United States in the next five years. X was randomly drawn from multiples of five between 5 and 95, inclusive.
The main dependent variable is an index of attitudes towards anti-terrorism policies. We considered four policies that have been proposed to combat terrorism: (1) “Do you support or oppose the U.S. government using wiretaps to listen in on citizens’ phone conversations in terrorism investigations?”; (2) “Do you support or oppose a law requiring libraries to turn over to terrorism investigators records of what books people have checked out?”; (3) “Do you support or oppose limits on airline passengers carrying liquids or gels (e.g., beverages, toothpaste, shampoo) onto airplanes?”; and (4) “Do you support or oppose the United States launching a military attack against Iran, which American government officials have accused of supporting terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda?” All of these policies impose some sort of costs on the public. To reduce measurement error, we averaged these four items together to construct an index (Cronbach’s a of .76). The scale was coded to lie between 0 (lowest level of support) and 1 (highest level of support).
Malhotra, Neil, and Elizabeth Popp. 2012. "Bridging Partisan Divisions over Anti-Terrorism Policies: The Role of Threat Perceptions." Political Research Quarterly. 65: 34-47.