Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft (GSI)




New publication: “Where Terror Lies: Misrepresentation of Extremist Attitudes and Terrorist Attacks in the Sahel” by Michael Neureiter and co-authors


Measuring individuals’ support for violent extremism is an unsurprisingly difficult task. Survey instruments inquiring about extremist attitudes and support for terrorism routinely face an issue of preference falsification – when asked, some respondents have incentives to mask their true support for violent extremism. Preference falsification therefore typically features prominently in debates surrounding methodology, and existing research highlights that covert, unobtrusive measurement tools outperform standard survey items. Yet, in their article “Where Terror Lies: Misrepresentation of Extremist Attitudes and Terrorist Attacks in the Sahel” published in Terrorism and Political Violence, Steven Finkel, John McCauley, Michael Neureiter and Christopher Belasco challenge the notion that preference falsification is a phenomenon with purely methodological implications. Drawing on data from nearly 4,000 respondents in Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger, the authors show that individuals’ tendency to misrepresent their support for extremist violence is linked to terrorism-related outcomes on the ground. The authors argue that preference falsification makes it harder for government agents to evaluate and respond to security threats, while systematic under-reporting may allow terrorist groups to identify communities supportive of violent extremism. The study’s evidence suggests that “[m]isrepresentation of attitudes at the communal level may thus influence which communities are protected, which are most susceptible, and where terrorist attacks ultimately occur.”