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Portney, Mumpower, and Vedlitz Receive NSF Grant

March 29, 2016

Drs. Kent Portney, Jeryl Mumpower, and Arnold Vedlitz received a National Science Foundation RAPID grant to study perceptions of risk among the American public regarding domestic terrorism, with a particular focus on so-called “lone-wolf” terrorist attacks—acts committed by individuals or a small number of people who are self-radicalized and without direct links to a larger group. The study will survey a representative sample of US residents and then survey them again at a later time.  This will enable the investigators to study risk perceptions relating to domestic terrorism and, particularly, how those risk perceptions increase or decrease over time. 

People will be asked to distinguish organized terror attacks from lone-wolf attacks. “This is the first study that enables a comparison of lone-wolf terrorism attacks and foreign organized attacks and the first one that allows us to determine whether the lone-wolf type of attack carries a different risk perception profile,” said Portney. “Better understanding of the specific and potentially unique risk and threat perceptions associated with lone-wolf terrorist attacks may have implications for public policy and institutional responses.”

The survey will measure a number of characteristics associated with perceptions of various types of terrorism attacks. The first wave of surveys will focus on events that took place in 2015, including San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Paris, and Charleston. The second survey will measure the same characteristics approximately six months after the first survey. The combined data from the two surveys will contribute to a better understanding of the correlates of risk perceptions of terrorist events, how and why those perceptions change over time, and how they relate to public support for policies to manage those risks. 

The study will look to see whether there are specific characteristics associated with risk perceptions related to lone-wolf terrorism events. The researchers will gather information on people’s concerns about future attacks, their sense of the likelihood of an attack, the seriousness of the effects of an attack, and how many people might be harmed. These characteristics, along with gender, income level, education level, and party/ideology, influence how people perceive risk related to lone-wolf terrorist attacks. Having received funding from the National Science Foundation, the research team is set to begin the first survey very soon.

RAPID grants are given to research projects with a strong urgency due to unanticipated events that provide a unique and short-lived opportunity to gather data to advance our understanding of such events. These grants are provided by the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency that offers funding for research and education in all nonmedical fields of science and engineering.

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