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Whose Rights?

Counterterrorism and the Dark Side of American Public Opinion

Clem Brooks, Jeff Manza

Publication Year: 2013

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government adopted a series of counterterrorism policies that radically altered the prevailing balance between civil liberties and security. These changes allowed for warrantless domestic surveillance, military commissions at Guantanamo Bay and even extralegal assassinations. Now, more than a decade after 9/11, these sharply contested measures appear poised to become lasting features of American government. What do Americans think about these policies? Where do they draw the line on what the government is allowed to do in the name of fighting terrorism? Drawing from a wealth of survey and experimental data, Whose Rights? explores the underlying sources of public attitudes toward the war on terror in a more detailed and comprehensive manner than has ever been attempted. In an analysis that deftly deploys the tools of political science and psychology, Whose Rights? addresses a vexing puzzle: Why does the counterterrorism agenda persist even as 9/11 recedes in time and the threat from Al Qaeda wanes? Authors Clem Brooks and Jeff Manza provocatively argue that American opinion, despite traditionally showing strong support for civil liberties, exhibits a “dark side” that tolerates illiberal policies in the face of a threat. Surveillance of American citizens, heightened airport security, the Patriot Act and targeted assassinations enjoy broad support among Americans, and these preferences have remained largely stable over the past decade. There are, however, important variations: Waterboarding and torture receive notably low levels of support, and counterterrorism activities sanctioned by formal legislation, as opposed to covert operations, tend to draw more favor. To better evaluate these trends, Whose Rights? examines the concept of “threat-priming” and finds that getting people to think about the specter of terrorism bolsters anew their willingness to support coercive measures. A series of experimental surveys also yields fascinating insight into the impact of national identity cues. When respondents are primed to think that American citizens would be targeted by harsh counterterrorism policies, support declines significantly. On the other hand, groups such as Muslims, foreigners, and people of Middle Eastern background elicit particularly negative attitudes and increase support for counterterrorism measures. Under the right conditions, Brooks and Manza show, American support for counterterrorism activities can be propelled upward by simple reminders of past terrorism plots and communication about disliked external groups. Whose Rights? convincingly argues that mass opinion plays a central role in the politics of contemporary counterterrorism policy. With their clarity and compelling evidence, Brooks and Manza offer much-needed insight into the policy responses to the defining conflict of our age and the psychological impact of terrorism.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page

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p. 3-3


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p. 4-4


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pp. v-vi

Figures and Tables

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pp. vii-viii

About the Authors

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

The origins of this project go back seven years. We were beginning a new collaboration that sought to apply experimental survey research techniques to examine how Americans form policy attitudes in the contemporary era, especially on issues relating to rising economic inequality and social policies that might redistribute the benefits...


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pp. xiii-xiv

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pp. 1-14

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon carried out by al-Qaeda operatives on September 11, 2001, were shattering events. They fueled widespread anger, a desire for revenge, and a new sense of threat and vulnerability among most Americans. Powerful and deep-seated responses coincided with unprecedented...

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1. From Rights Revolution to War on Terror

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pp. 15-42

How will future historians view the counterterrorism policies of the post-9/11 era? Situating the post 9/11 era in historical perspective is a valuable way to begin addressing the question. As we argue in this chapter, such a step provides perspective on the similarities and differences between contemporary counterterrorism and...

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2. The Puzzle of Counterterrorism Policy Attitudes

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pp. 43-61

How has the American public responded to new laws and policies of the post-9/11 era? In the previous chapter, we situated the rise of counterterrorism policies first under the administration of President Bush and in their later continuation following the election of a Democratic Congress and Democratic President Barack Obama...

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3. A Critical Era?

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pp. 62-83

In the midst of the 2007–2008 presidential election campaign, accumulating reports of the Bush administration’s war on terror and policies fueled significant legal and constitutional controversies. Combined with the declining popularity of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a rethinking and reformulation of counterterrorism policies very much...

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4. Threat Priming and National Identity Targets

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pp. 84-107

Laws and public policies dole out punishment and distribute rewards. When people see government as punishing groups they dislike or do not trust, they may feel good about government action. If a policy rewards a group that citizens see in a positive light, that policy will also tend to be viewed favorably. But when laws and policies...

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5. Who Is “Us”?

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pp. 108-125

Who are the principal insiders and outsiders in the contemporary era? Or to use an earlier formulation provided by Robert Reich (1990), “who is ‘us’?” When Reich posed this question, his idea was that the interests of workers and consumers alike were undergoing a rapid transformation at the hands of globalization. No longer...

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6. Policy Feedback?

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pp. 126-143

One of the most intriguing, if controversial, claims about policy attitudes is that they are shaped by policies themselves. That policies work in this way to feed back into the process of opinion formation is one interpretation of why policies, once adopted, often become difficult to dislodge. This dynamic is encapsulated by the expression...

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pp. 144-156

It is now more than a decade since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that shocked America and set the U.S. government on a policy course that departed profoundly and unexpectedly from the liberal drift of recent decades. By most conventional measures, the war on terror is more or less over. Al-Qaeda terrorist networks around the world have been...


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pp. 157-164


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pp. 165-178


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pp. 179-188

E-ISBN-13: 9781610448017
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540584

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2013