Discussion paper

DP17874 Panic Politics in the US West Coast

This study shows that military attacks — through fear and panic — can distort political behavior and create a "conservative shift" in subsequent elections. Using the distance to the Ellwood bombardment in 1942, a shelling of civilian installations on the US mainland during WW2 which caused minimal damage but that created a large wave of panic, we find that support for Republican candidates increased in subsequent Gubernatorial, Presidential and House elections in Californian counties in the vicinity of the incident. Interestingly, the effect appears to persist for a long time, even after WW2 ended. Using a large corpus of articles from Californian newspapers and text analysis, we provide evidence that the event led to a persistent shift in conservative beliefs of local communities. We conclude that attacks, through their psychological effects, might have long-run consequences through preference-shifting and changes in voting behaviors.


Berman, N, B Brey and J Laurent-Lucchetti (2023), ‘DP17874 Panic Politics in the US West Coast‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 17874. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp17874