Relative Poverty, Perceived Violence, and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan

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C. Christine Fair, Rebecca Littman, Neil Malhotra

Numerous theoretical models posit that income is negatively correlated with support for violent political organizations either because of low opportunity costs to participation or because those who feel excluded from and disadvantaged by the existing political hierarchy are more likely to support non-state actors trying to disrupt it. Recent empirical research on terrorism in South Asia and the Middle East has challenged this perspective. Consistent with this new body of empirical scholarship, we posit that feelings of relative depravation should be negative related to support for violent political action because militant organizations impose externalities that fall most heavily on people of low socioeconomic status. We extend existing empirical studies by estimating the causal effects that feelings of relative poverty and perceptions of violence have on support for militant groups using an original, large-scale survey experiment in Pakistan in which we randomly manipulated feelings of poverty and perceptions of violence. Consistent with our theoretical argument, we find that relative poverty and perceived violence reduce support for violent militant organizations. These findings have important implications not only for scholarship on political violence but also for national security and counterterrorism policy.