Skip to main content

The Partisan Politics of Counterterrorism: Reputations, Policy Transparency, and Electoral Outcomes*

  • Livio Di Lonardo

The prevention of terrorist attacks is an important concern for many governments. In democracies, officials also fear the electoral consequences of successful attacks. As a result, counterterrorism policy-making and electoral concerns are tightly intertwined. To understand the implications of this link, I develop a game-theoretic model and show that left-wing incumbents respond to terror threats more aggressively than their right-wing counterparts in order to convince voters that they can be trusted in fighting terrorism. Terrorist attacks improve right-wing incumbents’ reputation, while they worsen the reputation of left-wing incumbents. When the terrorist threat is high, voters ignore right-wing incumbents’ reputation, reelecting them independently of their performance. Finally, I consider the strategic consequences of maintaining counterterrorism policies hidden from the public eye.

Hide All

Livio Di Lonardo, Ph.D Candidate, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management, Bocconi University ( To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

Hide All
Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Party Politics in America, vol. 15 Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Ashworth, Scott, and Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2014. ‘Is Voter Competence Good for Voters?: Information, Rationality, and Democratic Performance’. American Political Science Review 108(3):565587.
Bali, Valentina A. 2007. ‘Terror and Elections: Lessons from Spain’. Electoral Studies 26:669687.
Bapat, Navin A. 2006. ‘State Bargaining with Transnational Terrorist Groups’. International Studies Quarterly 50:213230.
Bapat, Navin A., and Zeigler, Sean. 2015. ‘Terrorism, Dynamic Commitment Problems, and Military Conflict’. American Journal of Political Science 60:337351.
Berrebi, Claude, and Klor, Esteban F.. 2006. ‘On Terrorism and Electoral Outcomes: Theory and Evidence from the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 50:899925.
Berrebi, Claude, and Klor, Esteban F.. 2008. ‘Are Voters Sensitive to Terrorism? Direct Evidence from the Israeli Electorate’. American Political Science Review 102:279301.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2005a. ‘Conciliation, Counterterrorism, and Patterns of Terrorist Violence’. International Organization 59(1):145176.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2005b. ‘The Quality of Terror’. American Journal of Political Science 49(3):515530.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2007. ‘Politics and the Suboptimal Provision of Counterterror’. International Organization 61:936.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan, and Dickson, Eric S.. 2007. ‘The Propaganda of the Deed: Terrorism, Counterterrorism, and Mobilization’. American Journal of Political Science 51:364381.
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, and Shotts, Kenneth W.. 2007. ‘When Do Elections Encourage Ideological Rigidity?’. American Political Science Review 101:273287.
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, Herron, Michael C., and Shotts, Kenneth W.. 2001. ‘Leadership and Pandering: A Theory of Executive Policymaking’. American Journal of Political Science 45:532550.
Carter, David B. 2015. ‘The Compellence Dilemma: International Disputes with Violent Groups’. International Studies Quarterly 59:461476.
Carter, David B. 2016. ‘Provocation and the Strategy of Terrorist and Guerrilla Attacks’. International Organization 70:133173.
Cho, In-Koo, and Kreps, David M.. 1987. ‘Signaling Games and Stable Equilibria’. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 102:179221.
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 2007. Legislative Leviathan: Party Government in the House. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Davis, Darren W., and Silver, Brian D.. 2004. ‘Civil Liberties vs. Security: Public Opinion in the Context of the Terrorist Attacks on America’. American Journal of Political Science 48(1):2846.
Dragu, Tiberiu. 2017. ‘The Moral Hazard of Terrorism Prevention’. The Journal of Politics 79:223236.
Dragu, Tiberiu, and Polborn, Mattias. 2014. ‘The Rule of Law in the Fight Against Terrorism’. American Journal of Political Science 58:511525.
Epifanio, Mariaelisa. 2011. ‘Legislative Response to International Terrorism’. Journal of Peace Research 48:399411.
Fiorina, Morris P. 1991. ‘Elections and the Economy in the 1980s: Short-and Long-Term Effects’. In Alberto Alesina and Geoffrey Carliner (eds), In Politics and Economics in the Eighties. 17–40. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Fox, Justin. 2007. ‘Government Transparency and Policymaking’. Public Choice 131:2344.
Fox, Justin, and Stephenson, Matthew C.. 2011. ‘Judicial Review as a Response to Political Posturing’. American Political Science Review 105(2):397414.
Fox, Justin, and Stephenson, Matthew C.. 2015. “The Constraining, Liberating, and Informational Effects of Non-Binding Law.” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 31(2): 320–46.
Gassebner, Martin, Jong-A-Pin, Richard, and Mierau, Jochen O.. 2008. ‘Terrorism and Electoral Accountability: One Strike, You’re Out!’. Economics Letters 30:746.
Getmansky, Anna, and Zeitzoff, Thomas. 2014. ‘Terrorism and Voting: The Effect of Rocket Threat on Voting in Israeli Elections’. American Political Science Review 108(3):588604.
Goldsmith, Jack. 2012. ‘Power and Constraint: The Accountable Presidency After 9/11’. New York: WW Norton & Company.
Koch, Michael, and Tkach, Benjamin. 2012. ‘Deterring or Mobilizing? The Influence of Government Partisanship and Force on the Frequency, Lethality and Suicide Attacks of Terror Events’. Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 18:15548597.
Kydd, Andrew H., and Walter, Barbara F.. 2006. ‘The Strategies of Terrorism’. International Security 31(1):4980.
Lapan, Harvey E., and Sandler, Todd. 1988. ‘To Bargain or Not to Bargain: That is the Question’. American Economic Review 78(2):1621.
Maskin, Eric, and Tirole, Jean. 2004. ‘The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government’. American Economic Review 94:10341054.
Montalvo, Jose G. 2011. ‘Voting After the Bombings: A Natural Experiment on the Effect of Terrorist Attacks on Democratic Elections’. Review of Economics and Statistics 93:11461154.
Neumayer, Eric, Plümper, Thomas, and Epifanio, Mariaelisa. 2014. ‘The Peer-Effect in Counterterrorist Policies’. International Organization 68:211234.
Plümper, Thomas, and Epifanio, Mariaelisa. 2014. ‘The Issue-Salience Effect in Counterterrorist Politics’. Unpublished manuscript, University of Essex.
Posner, Richard A. 2006. Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of national Emergency. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Powell, Robert. 2007. ‘Defending Against Terrorist Attacks with Limited Resources’. American Political Science Review 101:527541.
Rosendorff, Peter B., and Sandler, Todd. 2004. ‘Too Much of a Good Thing? The Proactive Response Dilemma’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 48:657671.
Schultz, Kenneth A. 2005. ‘The Politics of Risking Peace: Do Hawks or Doves Deliver the Olive Branch?’. International Organization 59(1):138.
Shapiro, Jacob N., and Siegel, David A.. 2007. ‘Underfunding in Terrorist Organizations’. International Studies Quarterly 51:405429.
Shapiro, Jacob N., and Siegel, David A.. 2012. ‘Moral Hazard, Discipline, and the Management of Terrorist Organizations’. World Politics 64:3978.
Snyder, James M. Jr., and Ting, Michael M.. 2002. ‘An Informational Rationale for Political Parties’. American Journal of Political Science 46:90110.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Di Lonardo supplementary material

 PDF (326 KB)
326 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 1
Total number of PDF views: 50 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 338 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 10th July 2017 - 23rd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.