Public sentiments in times of terror

Ashani Amarasinghe


Do citizens hold their government accountable for the delivery of public goods? The literature has traditionally answered this question using temporally aggregated voting data. This paper proposes an alternative, fine-grained approach to explore the short term dynamics underlying public sentiments towards governments, for 132 countries over the period 2002-2016.

Focusing on terror attacks as a government accountability shock, and using high-frequency, text-based event data to quantify public sentiments, I find that the average level of Public Discontent increases by approximately 14% in the 11 months following a successful terror attack. This effect is not merely driven by fear, and is influenced by information on government competence and attack-specific features. Citizens are less reproachful if the government made a reasonable effort to keep the public safe, and for events that may be beyond the government's control. Interestingly, young leaders and new leaders demonstrate an ability to mobilize the masses to rally 'round the flag in the aftermath of terror attacks.

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