Public Reactions to Terrorism: Fight or Flight?

Recommended citation: Peter Liberman, “Public Reactions to Terrorism: Fight or Flight?”, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 11–14, 2013.

Abstract: In a population-based, online survey experiment, hypothetical terror attacks by the Taliban on U.S. soil, with the declared aim of coercing U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, increased support for the Afghanistan War compared to a terrorist threat. Attacks on a national symbol heightened support for war—and an angry desire for revenge—relative to attacks on a shopping mall. Mediation tests found that an anger/revenge factor mediated much of the attacks’ effect on war support, but that a fear/threat factor did not. The findings lend support to the theory that terrorism heightens U.S. public belligerence by arousing anger and desires for revenge, and are problematic for theories stressing either the coercive or backlash effects of popular threat perceptions and fear, and the theory that backlash is heightened by terror attacks on civilian targets.