Meet in the Middle: Terrorism and Centrist Party Vote Shares in Legislative Elections

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Scholars have found that terrorism can influence political behavior in democracies by affecting citizens’ emotions such as anxiety and fear. However, researchers have yet to examine how terrorism affects vote choice cross‐nationally. The few studies that have investigated terrorism's effect on vote choice have only examined single states through case study analysis. While informative, researchers lack an understanding regarding how terrorism influences vote choice cross‐nationally based on the nature of terrorist attacks and the ideology of political parties. Thus, using a unique dataset that incorporates political party ideology, this study examines the effect the number and severity of terrorist attacks have on vote choice in legislative elections in 56 democracies from multiple regions and levels of development from 1975 to 2014. Preliminary results indicate that terrorist attacks are critical events that significantly affect vote choice in the democratic states included in this analysis.

Policy Implications

  • Terrorism influences political behavior, therefore governments should develop and communicate sensible counterterrorism policies to maintain electoral stability.
  • Terrorism increases centrist parties vote shares suggesting that counterterrorism policies gravitating toward hawkish or dovish ends may be met with skepticism by voters.
  • Both right and leftist parties lose electoral support if they are governing during increases in terrorism. To minimize electoral losses, they should develop pragmatic counterterrorism proposals that address security concerns while avoiding reactionary policies.
  • Rightist parties suffer the most electorally following both international and domestic attacks and leftist parties lose support following domestic attacks. This suggests that parties should tailor their counterterrorism proposals and messaging depending on the type of the attack.