British Journal of Political Science


Electoral Institutions and the Emergence of Terrorist Groups

Deniz Aksoy and David B. Carter *


A wide range of studies find that democracies experience more terrorism than non-democracies. However, surprisingly little terrorism research takes into account the variation among democracies in terms of their electoral institutions. Furthermore, despite much discussion of the differences in terrorist groups’ goals in the literature, little quantitative work distinguishes among groups with different goals, and none explores whether and how the influence of electoral institutions varies among groups with different goals. The argument in this article posits that electoral institutions influence the emergence of within-system groups, which seek policy changes, but do not influence the emergence of anti-system groups, which seek a complete overthrow of the existing regime and government. The study finds that within-system groups are significantly less likely to emerge in democracies that have a proportional representation system and higher levels of district magnitude, while neither of these factors affects the emergence of anti-system groups.

(Online publication October 31 2012)


*  Department of Politics, Princeton University (emails:, We thank Erica Chenoweth, Kristian Gleditsch, Patrick James, Quan Li, Jim Piazza, Bing Powell, Joe Wright, Joe Young, participants of the 2010 Eurasian Peace Science Society Conference and the Journal's anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Any mistakes remain our responsibility. Data replication materials are available at and An appendix containing additional information is available at