Commentary Magazine


The Terrorism Effect

Are voters sensitive to terrorism? The Monkey Cage refers to the latest issue of the American Political Science Review in which a RAND Working Paper deals with the Israeli example.

The results consistently document, across different empirical specifications, that terrorism causes an increase on the relative support for the right bloc of parties.

It’s a detailed 40-page-long study, and the problem with it is, well, that it states the almost-obvious. Nevertheless, at this stage of the American political race, and with people starting to believe that only a major atmosphere-shifting event can propel John McCain into the White House, I think this article might attract some interest:

The particularities of the Israeli case notwithstanding, the revealed empirical evidence on the consequences of terror fatalities may describe similar patterns elsewhere. This case study may teach us general lessons based on over fifty years of dealing with terrorism. These lessons show that terror attacks affect the electorate, substantiating the hypothesis that democracies are especially susceptible to be targeted by terror organizations.

And what do we learn from the Israeli example?

the occurrence of a terror attack before an election (or the lack thereof) can clearly determine the electoral outcome… terrorism not only affected the composition of every Israeli parliament during the time period at issue, but it may had 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 the 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 3 months of the 1992 elections could have shifted the majority of the parliament from the left to the right bloc of parties (the actual difference between the two blocs was 61 to 59 parliament members in favor of the left bloc).

This means that an additional terror attack in 1992 could have killed the Oslo process–which makes one think about the strange ways of terror, and the deranged ways in which it serves to destroy both victim and aggressor alike.