Skip to main content Accessibility help

Relative Poverty, Perceived Violence, and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan*

  • C. Christine Fair, Rebecca Littman, Neil Malhotra and Jacob N. Shapiro


Challenging conventional wisdom, previous research in South Asia and the Middle East has shown that poverty and exposure to violence are negatively correlated with support for militant organizations. Existing studies, however, provide evidence consistent with two potential mechanisms underlying these relationships: (1) the direct effects of poverty and violence on attitudes toward militant groups and (2) the psychological effects of perceptions of poverty and violence on attitudes. Isolating whether the psychological mechanism is an important one is critical for building theories of mass responses to political violence. We conducted a series of original, large-scale survey experiments in Pakistan (n=16,279) in which we randomly manipulated perceptions of both poverty and violence before measuring support for militant organizations. We find evidence that psychological perceptions do in part explain why the poor seem to be less supportive of militant political groups.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Relative Poverty, Perceived Violence, and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan*
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Relative Poverty, Perceived Violence, and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan*
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Relative Poverty, Perceived Violence, and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan*
      Available formats



Hide All

C. Christine Fair is an Associate Professor at the Center for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University, Edward A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, 3600 N. Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007 ( Rebecca Littman is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Perestman Scully Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544 ( Neil Malhotra is a Professor at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, 655 Knight Way, Stanford, CA 94305 ( Jacob N. Shapiro is an Associate 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 ( The authors thank Eli Berman, Graeme Blair, Mike Callen, Patrick Kuhn, Paul Staniland, and seminar participants at the 2013 APSA Conference, University of Chicago and Yale for their helpful comments and feedback. All errors are the authors’ own. This research was supported in part by the US Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative through the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, grant no. FA9550-09-1-0314. This research was also supported by the US Department of State, through the Office of Public Affairs, grant no. SPK33011 GR004. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



Hide All
Afzal, Madiha. 2012. ‘Are the Better Educated Less Likely to Support Militancy and Terrorism? Women Are’. Working Paper No. 16152, CISSM, College Park, MD.
Benmelech, Efraim, Berrebi, Claude, and Klor, Esteban F.. 2012. ‘Economic Conditions and the Quality of Suicide Terrorism’. The Journal of Politics 74(1):113128.
Berman, Eli, Shapiro, Jacob N., and Felter, Joseph H.. 2011. ‘Can Hearts and Minds Be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq’. Journal of Political Economy 119(4):766819.
Berrebi, Claude. 2007. ‘Evidence About the Link Between Education, Poverty, and Terrorism Among Palestinians’. Peace Economics, Peace Science, and Public Policy 13(1):136.
Biddle, Stephen, Friedman, Jeffrey A., and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2012. ‘Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?’. International Security 37(1):740.
Blair, Graeme, Fair, C. Christine, Malhotra, Neil, and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2013. ‘Poverty and Support for Militant Politics: Evidence from Pakistan’. American Journal of Political Science 57(1):3048.
Blair, Graeme, Lyall, Jason, and Imai, Kosuke. 2013. ‘Explaining Support for Combatants During Wartime: A Survey Experiment in Afghanistan’. American Political Science Review 107(4):679705.
Blair, Graeme, Imai, Kosuke, and Lyall, Jason. 2014. ‘Comparing and Combining List and Endorsement Experiments: Evidence from Afghanistan’. American Journal of Political Science 58(4):10431063.
Blattman, Christopher, and Miguel, Edward. 2010. ‘Civil War’. Journal of Economic Literature 48(1):357.
Blomberg, S. Brock, Hess, Gregory D., and Orphanides, Athanasios. 2004. ‘The Macroeconomic Consequences of Terrorism’. Journal of Monetary Economics 51(5):10071032.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2005. ‘The Quality of Terror’. American Journal of Political Science 49(3):515530.
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan, Fair, C. Christine, Rais, Rasul B., and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2013. ‘The BFRS Political Violence in Pakistan Dataset’. Available at, accessed 20 May 2014.
Bullock, Will, Imai, Kosuke, and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2011. ‘Statistical Analysis of Endorsement Experiments: Measuring Support for Militant Groups in Pakistan’. Political Analysis 19(4):363384.
Chiozza, Giacomo. 2007. ‘Disaggregating Anti-Americanisms: An Analysis of Individual Attitudes Toward the United States’. In Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane (eds), Anti-Americanisms in World Politics. 93128. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Chong, Dennis, and Druckman, James N.. 2010. ‘Dynamic Public Opinion: Communication Effects Over Time’. American Political Science Review 104(4):663680.
Coll, Steve. 2014. ‘Pakistan’s Offensive, America’s Withdrawal’. The New Yorker. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Collier, Paul. 2009. Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places. New York: Harper-Collins.
Condra, Luke N., and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2012. ‘Who Takes the Blame? The Strategic Effects of Collateral Damage’. American Journal of Political Science 56(1):167187.
Condra, Luke N., Felter, Joseph H., Iyengar, Radha K., and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2010. ‘The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq’. Working Paper No. 16152, National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, MA.
Crosby, Faye. 1976. ‘A Model of Egoistical Relative Deprivation’. Psychological Review 83(2):85113.
Dalrymple, William A. 2013. A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Díaz-Cayeros, Alberto, Magaloni, Beatriz, Matanock, Aila, and Romero, Vidal. 2011. ‘Living in Fear: Mapping the Social Embeddedness of Drug Gangs and Violence in Mexico’. Working Paper, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
Esposito, John L., and Voll, John O.. 1996. Islam and Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fair, C. Christine. 2011. ‘Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Pakistani State’. Survival 53(4):2952.
Fearon, James. 2008. ‘Economic Development, Insurgency, and Civil War’. In Elhanan Helpman (ed.), Institutions and Economic Performance, 292328. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Ferrer-Carbonell, Ada. 2005. ‘Income and Well-Being: An Empirical Analysis of the Comparison Income Effect’. Journal of Public Economics 89(5–6):9971019.
Festinger, Leon. 1954. ‘A Theory of Social Comparison Processes’. Human Relations 7(2):117140.
Gaibulloev, Khusrav, and Sandler, Todd. 2009. ‘The Impact of Terrorism and Conflicts on Growth in Asia’. Economics & Politics 21(3):359383.
Ganguly, Sumit. 2001. Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Ghobarah, Hazem A., Huth, Paul, and Russett, Bruce. 2003. ‘Civil Wars Kill and Maim People—Long After the Shooting Stops’. American Political Science Review 97(2):189202.
Ghufran, Nasreen. 2009. ‘Pushtun Ethnonationalism and the Taliban Insurgency in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan’. Asian Survey 49(6):10921114.
Giustozzi, Antonio. 2009. ‘One or Many?: The Issue of the Taliban’s Unity and Disunity’. Working Paper, Pakistan Security Research Centre, Bradford, UK.
Gurr, Ted R. 1970. Why Men Rebel. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hagerty, Michael R. 2000. ‘Social Comparisons of Income in One’s Community: Evidence from National Surveys of Income and Happiness’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 78(4):764771.
Haisley, Emily, Mostafa, Romel, and Loewenstein, George. 2008. ‘Subjective Relative Income and Lottery Ticket Purchases’. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 21(3):283295.
Haqqani, Hussain. 2005. Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Hassan, Syed R. 2015. ‘Gunmen Kills 43 in Bus Attack in Pakistan’s Karachi’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Hussein, Rizwan. 2005. Pakistan and the Emergence of Islamic Militancy in Afghanistan. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.
Kahneman, Daniel, and Tversky, Amos. 1979. ‘Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk’. Econometrica 47(2):263292.
Kastellec, Jonathan P., and Leoni, Eduardo. 2007. ‘Using Graphs Instead of Tables to Improve the Presentation of Empirical Results in Political Science’. Perspectives on Politics 5(4):755771.
Kerry, John F. 2011. ‘Hearing Before The Committee On Foreign Relations United States Senate’. Technical report, 112th Congress, First Session, 10 May 2011. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Koszegi, Botond, and Rabin, Matthew. 2006. ‘A Model of Reference-Dependent Preferences’. Quarterly Journal of Economics 121(4):11331165.
Kroh, Martin, and Könnecke, Christine. 2014. ‘Poor, Unemployed, and Politically Inactive’. DIW Economic Bulletin 4(1):314.
Krueger, Alan B. 2007. What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Krueger, Alan B., and Malekova, Jitka. 2003. ‘Education, Poverty and Terrorism: Is There a Causal Connection?’. Journal of Economic Perspectives 17(4):119144.
Lijphart, Aaron. 1997. ‘Unequal Participation: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma’. American Political Science Review 91(1):114.
Loomes, Graham, and Sugden, Robert. 1982. ‘Regret Theory: An Alternative Theory of Rational Choice Under Uncertainty’. Economic Journal 92(4):805824.
Lord, Kristin M., Nagl, John A., and Rosen, Seth D.. 2009. Beyond Bullets: A Pragmatic Strategy to Combat Violent Islamist Extremism. Washington, DC: Center for a New American Security.
Martin, Joanne, Brickman, Philip, and Murray, Alan. 1984. ‘Moral Outrage and Pragmatism: Explanations for Collective Action’. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 20(5):484496.
Mikulaschek, Christoph, and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2015. ‘Lessons from America’s Post-9/11 Wars’. Working Paper, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ.
Mo, Cecilia H. 2013. ‘The Effects of Perceived Relative Poverty on Risk: An Aspirations-Based Model of Trafficking Vulnerability’. Working Paper, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.
Musharraf, Pervez. 2006. In the Line of Fire: A Memoir. New York: Free Press.
Nacos, Brigitte L., Block-Elkon, Yaeli, and Shapiro, Robert Y.. 2007. ‘Post-9/11 Terrorism Threats, News Coverage, and Public Perceptions in the United States’. International Journal of Conflict and Violence 1(2):105126.
Nasr, Seyyed V. R. 2000a. The Rise of Sunni Militancy in Pakistan: The Changing Role of Islamism and the Ulama in Society and Politics’. Modern Asian Studies 34(1):139180.
Nasr, Vali R. 2000b. International Politics, Domestic Imperatives, and Identity Mobilization: Sectarianism in Pakistan, 1979–1998’. Comparative Politics 32(2):171190.
Nazish, Kirin. 2014. ‘The Islamic State is Spreading into Pakistan’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Paige, Jeffrey M. 1975. Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture in the Underdeveloped World. New York: The Free Press.
Perwaiz, Salis B. 2014. ‘Jundullah, LeJ Worked Together to Target SSP Farooq Awan’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Petty, Richard E., and Wegener, Duane T.. 1998. ‘Attitude Change: Multiple Roles for Persuasion Variables’. In Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske and Gardner Lindzey (eds), The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 1, 4th ed., 323390. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Qazi, Shehzad H. 2011. ‘Rebels of the Frontier: Origins, Organization, and Recruitment of the Pakistani Taliban’. Small Wars & Insurgencies 22(4):574602.
Rosenfeld, Bryn, Imai, Kosuke, and Shapiro, Jacob N.. 2015. ‘An Empirical Validation Study of Popular Survey Methodologies for Sensitive Questions’. American Journal of Political Science.
Rubin, Barnett R. 2002. The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Sambanis, Nicholas. 2005. ‘Poverty and the Organization of Political Violence: A Review and Some Conjectures’. In Carol Graham and Susan M. Collins (eds), Brookings Trade Forum 2004. 165211. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
Saud, Mehsud, and Bukhari, Mubasher. 2014. ‘Pakistan Taliban Splinter Groups Vows Allegiance to Islamic State’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Scott, James C. 1976. Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Shafiq, M. Najeeb, and Sinno, Abdulkader H.. 2010. ‘Education, Income, and Support for Suicide Bombings: Evidence from Six Muslim Countries’. Journal of Conflict Resolution 54(1):146178.
Shalev, Jonathan. 2000. ‘Loss Aversion Equilibrium’. International Journal of Game Theory 29(2):269287.
Shapiro, Jacob N. 2013. The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sherazi, Zahir S. 2014. ‘Six Top TTP Commanders Announce Allegiance to Islamic State’s Baghdadi’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
Siddique, Qandeel. 2010. ‘Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan: An Attempt to Deconstruct the Umbrella Organization and the Reasons for its Growth in Pakistan’s North-West’. Working Paper No. 2010:12, Danish Institute for International Studies, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Smith, Heather J., Pettigrew, Thomas F., Pippin, Gina M., and Bialosiewicz, Silvana. 2012. ‘Relative Deprivation: A Theoretical and Meta-Analytic Review’. Personality and Social Psychology Review 16(3):203232.
Sugden, Robert. 2003. ‘Reference-Dependent Subjective Expected Utility’. Journal of Economic Theory 111(2):172191.
Swami, Praveen. 2007. India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947–2004. London: Routledge.
Tessler, Mark, and Robbins, Michael D. H.. 2007. ‘What Leads Some Ordinary Arab Men and Women to Approve of Terrorist Acts Against the United States?Journal of Conflict Resolution 51(2):305328.
Tomlinson, Hugh, and Khan, Wajahat S.. 2015. ‘Taliban Civil War Provokes Fear of ISIS Defections’. Available at, accessed 15 September 2015.
United States Agency for International Development. 2011. ‘The Development Response to Violent Extremism and Insurgency’. Technical report, USAID, Washington, DC.
Zahab, Mariam A. 2002. ‘The Regional Dimension of Sectarian Conflicts in Pakistan’. In Christophe Jaffrelot (ed.), Pakistan: Nationalism Without a Nation? 115128. London: Zed Books.
Zahab, Mariam A., and Roy, Olivier. 2004. Islamist Networks: The Afghan-Pakistan Connection. London: C. Hurst and Co.
Zaidi, Syed M. A. 2009. ‘The Taliban Organisation in Pakistan’. The RUSI Journal 154(5):4047.
Zaman, Muhammad Q. 1998. ‘Sectarianism in Pakistan: The Radicalization of Shi’i and Sunni Identities’. Modern Asian Studies 32(3):689716.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Fair supplementary material
Online Appendix

 PDF (123 KB)
123 KB
Supplementary materials

Fair supplementary material
Fair supplementary material 1

 Unknown (30 KB)
30 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed