This report examines how county-level characteristics relate to the likelihood that a violent far-right perpetrator (VFRP) resides in a county. This study’s novelty is in its creation of independent variables using public opinion data from the General Social Survey (GSS) to measure county-level characteristics over an extended period of time. The GSS is a bi-annual survey of public opinion of the US population. It is one of the most frequently analyzed sources of information in the social sciences, but has rarely been used in studies of terrorism. In this study, we innovatively aggregated responses to individual items included in the GSS to the county level which allowed us to more carefully operationalize conceptual constructs to past research.
While the GSS is available for public use, because of concerns about respondents’ privacy the public-use dataset does not include geographical identifiers for where respondents live. However, individual researchers can apply for the geographical identifiers, which we did. Since we were interested in how county characteristics relate to the likelihood that a far-right perpetrator would reside in the county, we utilized the GSS’s county-level FIPS codes. To have enough data from counties available to produce the power necessary to detect significant effects, we merged the last four waves (eight years) of the GSS and aggregated to the county-level all of responses from individuals surveyed in a given county that were asked the same questions during multiple years. We selected 35 variables that fit into eight broad categories that were relevant for understanding why a VFRP might reside in a county. From the 35 variables of interest we found nine that were significantly associated with having a VFRP from the county.
Previous research has shown that county population size is highly correlated with the likelihood of a terrorist attack occurring and that terrorists are more likely to live in more urban areas. We, therefore, looked at whether any of our key GSS variables remained significant after population was included in the model. The size of county population is consistently significant, and it does mute the significance of many of the other nine GSS county-level variables. However, the relationship between attitudes concerning whether people can be trusted and a VFRP residing in the county is significant even after controlling for population size. Counties where people feel others can be trusted are less likely to harbor a VFRP. Additional analysis revealed that as the percentage of a county that has moved in the last five years increases, so do the odds that the county had a VFRP in residence.
Our findings raise questions that need to be explored in more detail. The most interesting finding is that trust was found to be a significant and robust negative predictor of having a VFRP residing in the county. Other research that examines crime rates has argued that neighborhoods that are more disorganized are less able to obtain resources from the government and are less able to exercise social control. Thus these areas usually have higher crime rates. Although this is an intriguing finding, future research must explore the effects of other related disorganization measures, like collective efficacy. Social disorganization scholars have consistently found that greater levels of collective efficacy are associated with reduced violence. Intriguingly, our study has similarly found that counties in which people feel more trusting are less likely to be home to a VFRP.
Adamczyk, Amy, and Joshua Freilich, Steven Chermak, William Parkin. 2012. "Examining the Relationship between Global Study Survey (GSS) and Far Right Ideological Violence: A Country Level Analysis." National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (February):