Democracy and terrorism

Democracy and Security Dialogue Working Paper Series

A man reacts at an impromptu memorial where a van crashed into pedestrians at Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain August 21, 2017. REUTERS/Susana Vera - RC197DA58290
Editor's note:

This working paper is part of a series of papers on democracy, security, and violent extremism prepared for the Community of Democracies’ Democracy and Security Dialogue. The project seeks to foster greater collaboration among democratic governments, donors, civil society, and academics to improve security outcomes and create a more conducive environment for the strengthening of democracy around the world.


As a contribution to the Community of Democracies’ Democracy and Security Dialogue, Brookings Institution researchers studied how indicators of democracy in each country correlated with their levels of terrorism between 1989 and 2014. The purpose of this working paper is to provide a bivariate analysis of the relationship between democracy and deadly terrorism. The Brookings research team organized countries into groups based on their “level of democracy” between 1989 and 2014, and then analyze the levels of deadly terrorism experienced by each of those groups. The results from these descriptive statistics illustrate the correlation of levels of democracy and terrorism in recent decades. Without controlling for other variables, they found that countries with stronger indicators of democracy had, on average, experienced lower rates of terrorism, and that countries with mixed or lower levels of democracy experienced higher rates of terrorism.

The paper is organized as follows. First, the Brooking research team discuss the two variables of interest: democracy, based on three databases, and terrorism (transnational and total). Second, they perform two different kinds of analysis on these measures: mean analysis and data inspection. Finally, they discuss our results before detailing in a supplementary section how we group countries into four democracy levels before examining their average terror rates.