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When Can Politicians Scare Citizens Into Supporting Bad Policies? A Theory of Incentives with Fear-Based Content

Lupia, Arthur and Menning, Jesse (2005): When Can Politicians Scare Citizens Into Supporting Bad Policies? A Theory of Incentives with Fear-Based Content.

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Abstract

Analysts make competing claims about when and how politicians can use fear to gain support for suboptimal policies. Using a model, we clarify how common attributes of fear affect politicians’ abilities to achieve self-serving outcomes that are bad for voters. In it, a politician provides information about a threat. His statement need not be true. How citizens respond differs from most game-theoretic models – we proceed from more dynamic (and realistic) assumptions about how citizens think. Our conclusions counter popular claims about how easily politicians use fear to manipulate citizens, yield different policy advice than does recent scholarship on counterterrorism, and highlight issues (abstract, distant) and leaders (secretive) for which recent findings by political psychologists and public opinion scholars will – and will not – generalize.

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