A Comparative Study of the Effects of
Terrorist Threat on Support for Democracy

The attacks on September 11, 2001 jarringly awoke the average American to the grim reality that even a major power like the U.S. is susceptible to international terrorism.  Since 9/11, the threat of another terrorist attack continues to loom in the minds of U.S. citizens, in particular during election years or when the terror threat level is elevated.  At the core of this project is the fact that this is not only a U.S. phenomenon.  In recent years, Al Qaeda and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda have waged deliberate, violent, and lethal attacks in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. One consequence is that the specter of terrorist threat is now thoroughly spread across both liberal and illiberal democracies. It is therefore critical that we better understand how conditions of terrorist threat affect individuals’ political evaluations, attitudes, and behaviors.  As we have shown in previous work, worry about terrorism influences individuals’ evaluation and choice of leaders, preferences over international cooperation, among other factors.  In this project we investigate the extent to which terrorist threats affect support for democracy, its institutions, and its practices.  We further investigate the ways in which these relationships vary in well-established democracies compared to newer democracies, and how the presence (or absence) of reminders of core democratic values mitigates any negative effects of terrorism on support for democracy.  We are fielding studies in the following countries: Albania, Ecuador, France, Mexico, Peru, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  As another comparative dimension to the project, we examine the effects of international terrorist threat on attitudes in comparison to the effects of others types of threats: domestic terrorist threat, crime waves, and economic decline.


Principal Investigators*

Jennifer L. Merolla (Claremont Graduate University) and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister (Vanderbilt University)

*PI names are listed alphabetically in project-related documents.



This project is currently funded by the National Science Foundation (Award Numbers 0850824 and 0851136). To read about this study as well as other NSF funded projects on terrorism, click here. 

The broader project has received important support from numerous sources, including but not limited to the following:  the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) at Vanderbilt University; Fletcher Jones grants and general support from the Division of Politics & Economics at Claremont Graduate University; the Institute for Governmental Affairs and the Department of Political Science at the University of California-Davis; and, a grant from the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.

Working Papers


Media Report


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Project Materials

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