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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 use fear to gain support for suboptimal policies. Using a model, we clarify how common attributes of fear affect politicians’ abilities to achieve outcomes that are bad for voters. In it, a politician can provide 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 react to fear. Our conclusions counter popular claims about how easily politicians use fear to manipulate citizens; yield different policy advice than does recent counterterrorism scholarship; 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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