Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

October 2006


Paper presented at the Hendricks Conference on Political Behavior, Lincoln, Nebraska, October 13-14. This research was supported by Grants SES-0201650 and SES-9975063 from the National Science Foundation. We wish to thank our colleagues Charles Taber and Gallya Lahav for permission to use data from the Threat and National Security Survey.


We draw on data from a national RDD telephone sample of 1549 adult Americans conducted between October 15, 2001 and March 2, 2002 to explore the impact of a need for security on support for national security policies in the aftermath of the 911 terrorist attacks. In past research, an external threat has been assumed to have uniform impact on an affected population, a claim that has met with growing research scrutiny. We advance research on threat through an examination of the political effects of individual differences in one’s ability to feel secure in the aftermath of terrorism, exploring the interaction between perceived threat and felt security. Most Americans reported a sense of security after the 911 attacks. But a sense of insecurity among a minority of Americans coupled with a perceived threat of future terrorism increased support for both domestic and international security policy-- the curtailment of domestic civil liberties, tougher visa checks, and support for the war in Afghanistan. Our findings underscore the diverse ways in which individuals react politically to a common external threat. We draw on attachment (Bowlby 1982/1969) and terror management theory (Pyzszcynski et al 2002) to understand the origins of individual differences in felt security.