Austin L. Wright

Terrorism, Ideology and Target Selection

How do ideological motivations influence terrorists’ choice of targets?

Scholars have made anecdotal conjectures about how terrorists use ideological considerations to select specific targets. But until recently, researchers have done no rigorous empirical work to answer this question. To address this gap in the literature, Wright presents a theoretical and empirical model. Using novel data on Western European terrorism from 1965 to 2005 and a multinomial logistic extension of statistical backwards induction, he finds that ideology is the only consistent predictor of target selection under strategic constraints. To his knowledge, this study presents the first rigorous evidence that ideology matters even within strategic environments. These results are particularly robust for nationalist-separatist and sectarian groups, even when excluding domestic terrorism in the United Kingdom and Spain. He also finds strong evidence that governments respond based on institutional paths and recent tactical success.

(working paper)

Download Full Story (PDF)

The University of Chicago