Poverty and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan


  • Graeme Blair is Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Politics, Princeton University, 130 Corwin Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (gblair@princeton.edu, http://www.princeton.edu/~gblair). C. Christine Fair is Assistant Professor, Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University, Edward A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, 3600 N. Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007 (ccf33@georgetown.edu, http://www.christinefair.net). Neil Malhotra is Associate Professor, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 655 Knight Way, Stanford, CA 94305 (neilm@stanford.edu, http://www.stanford.edu/~neilm). Jacob N. Shapiro is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Co-Director of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Robertson Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 (jns@princeton.edu, http://www.princeton.edu/~jns). We thank our partners at Socio-Economic Development Consultants (SEDCO) for their diligent work administering a complex survey in challenging circumstances. The editor, our six anonymous reviewers, Scott Ashworth, Rashad Bokhari, Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, Ali Cheema, James Fearon, Amaney Jamal, Asim Khwaja, Roger Myerson, Farooq Naseer, and Mosharraf Zaidi provided outstanding feedback. Seminar participants at UC Berkeley, CISAC, Georgetown, the Harris School, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Stanford, and the University of Ottawa honed the article with a number of insightful comments. Josh Borkowski, Zach Romanow, and Peter Schram provided excellent research assistance at different points. Basharat Saeed led the coding team that developed the violence data. This material is based upon work supported by the International Growth Center (IGC), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) under Award No. FA9550-09-1-0314, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under awards 2007-ST-061-000001 and 2010-ST-061-RE0001 through the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institution. Replication materials can be found at http://hdl.handle.net/1902.1/17042, and the Supporting Information is posted on the AJPS Web site.


Policy debates on strategies to end extremist violence frequently cite poverty as a root cause of support for the perpetrating groups. There is little evidence to support this contention, particularly in the Pakistani case. Pakistan's urban poor are more exposed to the negative externalities of militant violence and may in fact be less supportive of the groups. To test these hypotheses we conducted a 6,000-person, nationally representative survey of Pakistanis that measured affect toward four militant organizations. By applying a novel measurement strategy, we mitigate the item nonresponse and social desirability biases that plagued previous studies due to the sensitive nature of militancy. Contrary to expectations, poor Pakistanis dislike militants more than middle-class citizens. This dislike is strongest among the urban poor, particularly those in violent districts, suggesting that exposure to terrorist attacks reduces support for militants. Long-standing arguments tying support for violent organizations to income may require substantial revision.