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Terror and the Ballot Box

The UK has suffered two major terrorist incidents in the run-up to its general election on June 8, raising the question of whether the attacks will change how people vote. Research on voting behavior indicates that terrorism can indeed have a significant psychological impact on voters and electoral outcomes.

LONDON – The United Kingdom has suffered two major terrorist incidents in the run-up to its general election on June 8. The question now is whether the attacks at a pop concert in Manchester last month and on London Bridge last week will change how people vote.

Unfortunately, academic research into the psychological effects of terrorism suggests that extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are on to something when they launch attacks before elections. In addition to causing death and destruction, terrorism can have a significant psychological impact on voters and electoral outcomes.

Generally, the state of the economy is one of the main factors affecting voters’ decisions. But terrorism has a unique power to divert voters’ attention away from “normal” politics, including economic challenges. When this happens, otherwise low-salience issues, such as security or foreign policy, can become the electorate’s primary concern.

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