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Are Voters Sensitive to Terrorism?

- October 9, 2008

bq. 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. We 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, we demonstrate that terrorism does cause the ideological polarization of the electorate. Overall, our analysis provides strong empirical support for the hypothesis that the electorate shows a highly sensitive reaction to terrorism.

That is the lead article in the most recent American Political Science Review. The effect of terrorism are consequential:

bq. …terrorism not only affected the composition of every Israeli parliament during the time period at issue, but also may have very well determined which party obtained a plurality in two of the elections analyzed. This appears to be the case for the elections of 1988 (where…Likud defeated Labor by one mandate) and the elections of 1996 (where Netanyahu defeated Peres by less than 30,000 votes). Moreover, note that an additional terror attack within three months of the 1992 elections could have shifted the majority of the parliament from the left to the right bloc of parties.

The article is here (gated) or here (ungated).