Poverty and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan
Policy debates on strategies to end extremist violence frequently cite poverty as a root cause of support for the perpetrating groups. There is little evidence to support this contention, particularly in the Pakistani case. Pakistan’s urban poor are more exposed to the negative externalities of militant violence and may in fact be less supportive of the groups. To test these hypotheses we conducted a 6,000-person, nationally representative survey of Pakistanis that measured affect toward four militant organizations. By applying a novel measurement strategy, we mitigate the item nonresponse and social desirability biases that plagued previous studies due to the sensitive nature of militancy. Contrary to expectations, poor Pakistanis dislike militants more than middle-class citizens. This dislike is strongest among the urban poor, particularly those in violent districts, suggesting that exposure to terrorist attacks reduces support for militants. Long-standing arguments tying support for violent organizations to income may require substantial revision.