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The Propaganda of the Deed: Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Mobilization


  • Ethan Bueno de Mesquita
  • Eric S. Dickson


Many terrorist factions care about the level of popular support they enjoy within a population they claim to represent. Empirically, this level of support can either rise or fall in the aftermath of a campaign of terrorist violence. Under what circumstances is the use of terror an effective tactic for mobilizing political support for an extremist group? This article models a scenario in which an extremist faction considers attacking a government in the hopes of provoking a counterterror response that will radicalize the population, increasing the extremists' support at the expense of a more moderate faction. In our scenario, such radicalization can result either from the economic damage caused by counterterror operations or by the way in which such operations change the population's assessment of the government's motivations. We demonstrate that such attempts at mobilizing public support can be, but need not be, successful, discuss factors that make both the initiation of a terror campaign and successful mobilization more or less likely, and relate our results to several empirical cases.

Suggested Citation

  • Ethan Bueno de Mesquita & Eric S. Dickson, 2007. "The Propaganda of the Deed: Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Mobilization," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 51(2), pages 364-381, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:amposc:v:51:y:2007:i:2:p:364-381
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2007.00256.x

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    Cited by:

    1. David Fielding & Anja Shortland, 2010. "What Explains Changes in the Level of Abuse Against Civilians during the Peruvian Civil War?," Working Papers 1003, University of Otago, Department of Economics, revised May 2010.
    2. Mario Gilli & Paolo Tedeschi, 2020. "European Union and Transnational Terrorism. A Normative Analysis of Strategic Spillovers," Working Papers 437, University of Milano-Bicocca, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2020.
    3. Claude Berrebi & Esteban F. Klor, 2011. "Does Harboring Terrorists Have Economic Costs?," EUSECON Policy Briefing 12, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    4. Mahmood, Rafat & Jetter, Michael, 2019. "Military Intervention via Drone Strikes," IZA Discussion Papers 12318, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Jaeger, David A. & Klor, Esteban F. & Miaari, Sami H. & Paserman, M. Daniele, 2012. "The struggle for Palestinian hearts and minds: Violence and public opinion in the Second Intifada," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 354-368.
    6. Sophia Hatz, 2020. "Selective or collective? Palestinian perceptions of targeting in house demolition," Conflict Management and Peace Science, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 37(5), pages 515-535, September.
    7. Efraim Benmelech & Claude Berrebi & Esteban F. Klor, 2010. "The Economic Cost of Harboring Terrorism," Journal of Conflict Resolution, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 54(2), pages 331-353, April.
    8. Andrew M. Linke & Frank D. W. Witmer & John O'Loughlin, 2012. "Space-Time Granger Analysis of the War in Iraq: A Study of Coalition and Insurgent Action-Reaction," International Interactions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 38(4), pages 402-425, September.
    9. Colin Jennings, 2012. "Rationalising ‘'Irrational'' Support for Political Violence," Working Papers 1212, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics.
    10. Travers B. Child & David Scoones, 2017. "Community preferences, insurgency, and the success of reconstruction spending," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 28(1), pages 34-52, January.
    11. Elena V McLean & Kaisa H Hinkkainen & Luis De la Calle & Navin A Bapat, 2018. "Economic sanctions and the dynamics of terrorist campaigns," Conflict Management and Peace Science, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 35(4), pages 378-401, July.
    12. Elster, Yael, 2019. "Rockets and votes," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 767-784.
    13. Ignacio Sánchez-Cuenca, 2014. "Why Do We Know So Little About Terrorism?," International Interactions, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 40(4), pages 590-601, August.
    14. Francesco Trebbi & Eric Weese & Austin L. Wright & Andrew Shaver, 2017. "Insurgent Learning," NBER Working Papers 23475, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Michael McBride & Gary Richardson, 2012. "Stopping Suicide Attacks: Optimal Strategies and Unintended Consequences," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 23(5), pages 413-429, October.
    16. Dushyant Kumar & Prabal Roy Chowdhury, 2015. "Conflict and development," Indian Statistical Institute, Planning Unit, New Delhi Discussion Papers 15-05, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India.
    17. Jennings, Colin, 2012. "Rationalising ‘Irrational’ Support for Political Violence," SIRE Discussion Papers 2012-87, Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).
    18. Daniel Milton, 2020. "Fatal attraction: explaining variation in the attractiveness of Islamic State propaganda," Conflict Management and Peace Science, Peace Science Society (International), vol. 37(4), pages 430-450, July.

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