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


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.

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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

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Political Science Research and Methods
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