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Domestic Terrorism Targeting America’s Political Elites

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $751,254)

The University of Illinois Chicago proposes to implement the “Domestic Terrorism Targeting America’s Political Elites” project. The purpose is to investigate the prevalence and political consequences of exposure to Diffused Domestic Terrorism (DDT) among state legislators, mayors and staff nationwide. This phenomenon includes threats of harm and actual violence (physical and/or property) targeted at American elected officials and their staff at the state and local level. Several organizations including US Capitol Police, the Secret Service, the National League of Cities, and our partner, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), have identified this as a threat to democratic institutions. We will also work with USCM to identify appropriate policy interventions and test awareness and support among elected officials and staff. Finally, we seek to test communications interventions that could lead to best practices for how elected officials and their organizations can communicate about the issue to the public without further inflaming partisan animosity and strengthening support for political violence. We seek to examine two key interventions – policy changes to support the institutional and individual response to DDT and communications changes that mitigate the grievance-based cycle of increasing partisan animosity and violence. This project aligns with topic area #1 (Research to Inform Terrorism Prevention Efforts).

Project activities include: 1) a survey of state legislators and mayors; 2) a survey of their staffers; 3) survey experiments with members of the public to test communications and messaging; 4) development of a list of policy innovations and best practices to enhance the security of elected officials and staff; 5) two conferences (one with the USCM) to present and discuss the results with stakeholders. Expected outcomes include: 1) policy recommendations to enhance the security and reduce turnover among subnational elected officials and staff; 2) communications best practices for how to inform the public about the prevalence of DDT and strengthen non-violence norms. The intended direct beneficiaries of the project are subnational elected officials and their staff. The project has indirect benefits for American democratic institutions by stemming losses in substantive and descriptive representation and limiting turnover of experienced staff. Subrecipient activities include: 1) UMass Lowell will be responsible for the data collection and data entry of mail surveys; 2) Northwestern University will assist in survey development and data analysis/reporting; 3) US Conference of Mayors will consult on survey of elected official and staff, provide their logo for branding, and assist in the reporting and report dissemination. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 8, 2023