While the debate continues about whether the threat of terrorism in the United States is overblown or underestimated, former START Terrorism Research Awardee Peter Krause is seeking to find whether an individual's fact-based knowledge of terrorism alters his or her stance in the debate.
"Policymakers constantly debate the value of public education programs to inform the populace about terrorist threats, as well as whether the public over or underestimates the threat itself," Krause said.
"This study will provide unique insight as well as a foundation for further analysis of these pressing questions for scholarship and policy."
An assistant professor of political science at Boston College, Krause surveyed the students in a terrorism class he taught in the fall of 2012 to gauge how his course impacted students' knowledge and opinions about the nature of the U.S. terrorist threat and U.S. counterterrorism policies.
The 20-question survey, which Krause issued to his students in the first week of class and again in the last week of class, included questions concerning both fact and opinion.
The survey also included quantitative variables (e.g. How much does the United States spend on counterterrorism? How many people die from terrorist attacks each year?) and qualitative variables (e.g. What is the definition of terrorism? Has al-Qaida succeeded, why or why not?).
Having completed the initial pilot experiment with his students, Krause is now expanding the experiment's scope to include students enrolled in terrorism courses at colleges and universities in the United States and around the world. He is currently building a network of professors who teach courses on terrorism and political violence who will use the short survey within their classes.
"I hope that beyond contributing to this policy-relevant knowledge, this study can arm those professors who take part in this with detailed information about how their course has shaped their students' understanding," Krause said.
Krause will provide each professor with detailed information about how their students' answers compared to those across the country. After Krause publishes the initial studies, professors will also receive access to the entire survey dataset for their own interests and publications. Any professors interested in participating should contact START at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The survey is available online or in hard copy form, and Krause will work with all interested professors to distribute the survey to their students with minimal prep time. Krause's research and writing focuses on international security, Middle East politics, non-state violence and social movements. As a START Terrorism Research Awardee, he conducted a project, "Coercion by Any Other Name Should Smell as Sweet: The Political Effectiveness of Terrorism," in which START researcher Martha Crenshaw served as his faculty mentor.
START's TRA program awards $5,000 in funds to dedicate towards research expenses and professional development experiences to graduate students and scholars who have completed a Ph.D. program within the last five years and are pursuing terrorism research.
Krause is currently completing his book manuscript on the political effectiveness of violence within national movements and articles on the debate over the effectiveness of non-state violence, the polarity of social movements and the threat of internal strife by non-state actors for political gain. He has previously published articles on U.S. intervention in the Syrian civil war, the politics of division within the Palestinian national movement, the war of ideas in the Middle East and a reassessment of U.S. operations at Tora Bora in 2001.