While hostage-taking has been a common form of terrorism for decades, which types of governments are more prone to it remains unclear. Does democracy motivate terrorists to engage in hostage-taking acts because of how easy negotiating with a democratic government is? Or does democracy impose ‘audience costs’ on the government leaders, driving them never to negotiate with hostage-taking terrorists following the long-held principle of no negotiation? This article argues that hostage-taking terrorists are more inclined to target democratic governments because of the greater value given to human life and personal freedom in democracies. Additionally the helplessness of held hostages is more freely exposed by the media in democracies, which leads to the audience focusing on the hostages themselves rather than on the interests of the nation. This in turns compels decisionmakers to concede, especially near election time. It is only when institutional constraints on the executives are high that democratic leaders refuse to make concessions. Using data on hostage events from 1978 to 2005, this article finds strong evidence that supports this theory, showing that democracy has competing effects on hostage-taking terrorism – civil liberties and press freedom are positively associated with hostage-taking incidents, whereas executive constraints have a negative association.
Journal of Peace Research, Vol.50, No.2, pp.235-248