Families of 9/11 victims more politically active — and more Republican

Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have become significantly more active in politics over the past 12 years — and also more Republican, according to a new study by Yale University. The study appears in the Dec. 9 online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Not surprisingly, researchers across the country found heightened levels of post-traumatic stress among all Americans after the attacks, as well as increased political activism, trust in government, and conservative political attitudes. Much of that dissipated, however, within months after the attacks. The goal of the Yale study was to measure whether these changes had persisted over time among victims’ families, something that had not been previously examined.

To measure behavioral change among 9/11 victims’ families, Yale political scientist Eitan Hersh used an analytic method that differed from the survey techniques commonly used in studies of human behavior. He studied the behavior using personal data stored in multiple government databases that captured individual political behavior before and after 9/11, such as records of  primary and general election participation, party affiliation, and campaign contributions. Hersh compared behavioral changes in victims’ families between 1998 and 2013 to those of families that were very similar to the victims’ families but did not lose a loved one in the terrorist attack.

Hersh writes that although 9/11 had no lasting effect on the policy positions or ideological dispositions of typical Americans, the effects on victims’ families even 12 years after 9/11 were apparent. Among the study’s findings:

  • Families increased their level of political participation after 9/11, and this increase has persisted more than a decade after the attacks;

  • Families showed significant increases in participation in political party primaries following 9/11;

  • 17% of the voters sampled had changed their party affiliations, and the largest change was a shift to the Republican Party among those who had been Democrats or Independents prior to 9/11; thus, in 2013 these families are more likely to be Republican.

“This analysis shows that 9/11 significantly changed the political landscape among families of the victims, stimulating participation in the political process and an affinity toward the Republican Party,” said Hersh, assistant professor of political science and research fellow at the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale.

Future research, Hersh says, may investigate the mechanisms that underlie the increase in activism and Republican support, and may apply the methodology used in this study for other applications. “Using new techniques in behavioral social science, we can answer important questions about phenomena like terrorist attacks and natural disasters that affect small populations but have lasting social and political ramifications,” he said.

The study was funded by the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale.

(Image via Shutterstock)