The Journal of Politics


The Politics of Threat: How Terrorism News Shapes Foreign Policy Attitudes

Shana Kushner Gadariana1

a1 University of California-Berkeley


In this paper, I argue that the features of the media environment after 9/11, particularly the media’s emphasis on threatening information and evocative imagery, increased the public’s probability of supporting the policies advocated by political leaders, principally the president. Using the National Election Studies 2000–2004 panel and a controlled, randomized experiment, I demonstrate that citizens form significantly different foreign policy views when the information environment is emotionally powerful than when it is free of emotion, even when the factual information is exactly the same. Citizens concerned about terrorism are more likely to adopt the hawkish foreign policy views communicated in threatening news stories when that policy is matched with fear-inducing cues than when it is not. These findings suggest that the role of the media is broader than simply providing a conduit for elites to speak to the public; the media influences the public through their own means as well.

(Received December 22 2008)

(Accepted August 30 2009)


Shana Kushner Gadarian is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholar in Health Policy at University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720.