Perspectives on Terrorism is an initiative of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Visit website
VOL. IX, Issue 3

At What Cost. United States’ Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Reputation, and Public Opinion

As the United States aggressively pursues transnational terrorists, what value does the American public put on the United States’ reputation abroad? This project investigated the American public’s opinion about the United States’ reputation and influence abroad, and Americans’ willingness to bear costs–in terms of damaged reputation and influence–in order to feel secure. Data were collected via an online survey experiment. Six different scenarios were created which manipulated the way a threat was described and the way the costs associated with a policy response were described. The threat description varied by either including specific information about a domestic threat or presenting an ambiguous warning about a global threat. After reading the threat description, subjects were asked to select the best response to that threat from a menu of four increasingly aggressive policy options. Descriptions of the potential costs associated with each of these four options varied in three ways: descriptions that emphasized non-material, reputational costs, descriptions that emphasized material costs only, or had no information about potential costs at all. We found that if the costs associated with policy options were framed as damage done to US reputation and diplomatic relationships, people were less likely to pursue more aggressive options.

About ICCT

The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) is a think-and-do tank based in The Hague, Netherlands. We provide research, policy advice, training and other solutions to support better counter-terrorism policies and practices worldwide. We also contribute to the scientific and publi.…