Voters versus terrorists: Analyzing the effect of terrorist events on voter turnout

Joseph Robbins, Lance Hunter, Gregg R. Murray

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Scholars and policymakers commonly assume terrorism is intended to affect a broader audience beyond the physically targeted victims. Informed by scholarship regarding the effects of heuristics and emotion on political cognition and behavior, we evaluate the impact of terrorism on the broader audience of the electorate as manifested by voter turnout. We hypothesize that increased terrorism is associated with increased voter turnout. In particular, we invoke the Affective Intelligence model and its related findings that emotion plays a key role in individuals' political cognition and behavior. Following this perspective, we argue that terrorist attacks are threatening and novel political events that induce anxiety in the electorate, which, in turn, leads individuals to scrutinize the political environment more closely and to ascribe greater salience to proximate political events. As a result of this increased concern with the political environment and increased salience of upcoming elections, we expect voter turnout to increase. While conventional explanations of turnout are important, they do not capture the effect of emotions despite other well-known relationships, such as attitudinal responses to international political crises (e.g. the rally-around-the-flag effect). Our cross-national analyses, which include 51 democracies and use two geographically and definitionally distinct datasets, indicate that the positive relationship between terrorism and turnout is non-trivial and robust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-508
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • affective intelligence model
  • emotion
  • terrorism
  • voter turnout

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


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