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The Origins and Consequences of Public Opinion in Coercive Terrorist Crises


This dissertation identifies the determinants of public opinion in coercive terrorist crises and explores how the effects of coercive terrorism on public opinion incentivize the decisions of democratic leaders. Using a multi-method research design, the project includes innovative randomized survey experiments fielded in Lebanon and the United States, statistical modeling of Israeli public support for the Oslo Peace Process, and interviews with government officials and policymakers. I find that public attitudes in coercive terrorist crises are highly dependent on the intensity of terrorist campaigns, government concessions and intransigence, prior population exposure to terrorism, prior attitudinal strength and ambivalence, partisanship, and the reaction of the political opposition. Yet, the data reveal that publics are surprisingly resilient to this type of coercive diplomacy across all of my case studies. If terrorism provides any sense of urgency to change course, it is likely the result of inaccurate leader perceptions rather than being grounded in strong empirical reality.

These findings have important policy implications. Leaders coping with the aftermath of terrorist attacks can use the results to generate appropriate policy responses to the changing international and domestic environments. They provide international mediators important intellectual capital as they work to facilitate and resolve longstanding international disputes. They increase our knowledge of how the threat of terrorism, not just the act itself, can affect government policy. As al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups attempt to coerce governments across the globe, such information is of critical importance to policymakers. Lastly, they improve our understanding of the nature of coercive diplomacy and international conflict in general.

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