Terrorizing Democrats: Political Institutions and Terrorists’ Targeting Decisions

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2011
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What explains why some terrorist groups attack civilian targets frequently while others do so only very rarely? While civilians are a particularly appealing target because they are easy to attack, many groups go to great lengths to avoid them. In this paper I examine what targets groups are likely to attack given the government from which they wish to gain political concessions. Based on a coercive model of violence, I argue groups attack those segments of society that apply the most pressure on a government. In general terms, the most influential segments of society for any government are its minimum winning coalition and selectorate. After surveying the literature on a large number of different regime types, I conclude that civilians face the highest risk of being attacked in democracies because, unlike forms of non-democracy, the minimum winning coalition and selectorate in democracies are composed of civilians. Using a dataset on more than 30,000 attacks worldwide, I find that civilians in democracies face an increased risk of attack.