My Projects

An Analysis of Terrorist Group Formation, 1860—1969 

Joshua Tschantret, Yufan Yang and Hoshik Nam

Defence and Peace Economics, Forthcoming


A number of new and exciting datasets on terrorist groups have been created in recent years. However, most data have limited temporal coverage. In this article, we explore a dataset of historical terrorist groups formed between 1860 and 1969 to determine which insights from the terrorism literature are generalizable over time. A cursory look into the dataset reveals several trends that have been overlooked by both the qualitative historical terrorism literature and the quantitative contemporary terrorism literature. We also perform an econometric analysis of terrorist group formation to test hypotheses derived from the extant research. Our results show limited support for existing hypotheses, although civil society participation appears consistently associated with terrorist group formation. 

Is Terrorism Deadlier in Democracies?

Joshua Tschantret, Yufan Yang and Cody Schmidt

International Interactions, Revise and Resubmit


A long literature examines the relationship between terrorism and democracy. However, little research examines the lethality of terrorist attacks across regime type. This article theorizes the terrorism that democracies do experience will be less deadly. Democracy increases the opportunity for non-state actors to use terrorism to attract attention to their causes, which we argue also mitigates the need to carry out deadly attacks. Using cross-national data on domestic terrorist attacks committed between 1970 and 2013, a multilevel statistical analysis demonstrates that terrorist attacks in democracies are less lethal. A time-series cross-sectional analysis further reveals that consolidated democracies and harsh authoritarian regimes experience few deaths from terrorism. While democracies experience high volumes of nonlethal terrorism, strong autocracies experience low amounts of deadly terrorism. Thus, there is strong evidence that—in one important sense—democracies are safer from terrorism.

Disasters and the Dynamics of Interstate Rivalry

Bomi Lee, Sara Mitchell, Cody Schmidt, and Yufan Yang

Journal of Peace Research, Revise and Resubmit


This project examines how disasters influence conflict dynamics in interstate rivalries.Drawing on the rivalry literature’s idea of political shocks and the logic of diversionary conflict, the authors argue that rapid onset disasters shorten the duration between dyadic militarized disputes. However, the conditions for diversionary conflict depend on the degree of intrastate turmoil and the number of interstate rivalries, with disaster diversion happening most frequently in rivalry dyads with significant internal strife. Given the increased frequency and severity of disasters globally, our findings suggest that these environmental shocks will increase interstate hostilities in conflict-prone regions.

The Environment and Conflict: WaterWars

Sara Mitchell and Yufan Yang

In What Do We Know About War? (Third Edition), 2021


In this chapter, we consider how environmental factors influence the risks for interstate conflict. We focus on renewable resources(e.g. freshwater, fisheries) and climate change (e.g. long-term changes or deviations in temperatures or precipitation). In general, the literature suggests that environmental risks for interstate wars exist, but they are often triggered by other conflict conditions (e.g. population growth) and that conflict escalation can be avoided through institutionalized cooperation (e.g. river treaties). We begin by reviewing the older literature connecting population growth, resource competition, and interstate conflict. This is followed by a review of research on water conflicts involving cross-border river and maritime areas and a discussion of how climate change influences interstate conflict. We then identify other theoretical conditions that intervene in the environment-conflict relationship such as economic development, domestic institutions, state capacity, and international institutions. We conclude with thoughts on challenges in this literature and we identify paths forward for improved understanding of how environmental factors influence conflict processes.  

Political Discourse in China: How Does China Frame Hong Kong Protests to Its Domestic Audience?

Yufan Yang

Journal of Quantitative Description: Digital Media, Revise and Resubmit


The Hong Kong pro-democracy protest, starting from June 9th 2019, has presented a challenge to the Chinese regime. How does Chinese official media respond to this crisis on the Internet? How does the regime frame the anti-regime protests to its mainland audience? In this paper, I describe the strategies used in the Chinese propaganda apparatus to enhance regime resilience. Using text analysis and data collected from Chinese official media, I show that China uses three political rhetoric to frame Hong Kong protest to its domestic audience. First, the regime draws a clear line between the in-group and out-group members. Second, the regime focuses on promoting internal solidarity by demonstrating similarities in political beliefs to resist influence from out-group members. Finally, the regime presents an external enemy to its domestic audience. I also show that the usage of these rhetoric is contingent on Western media’s frame of the protest using data collected from The New York Times. That is, the Chinese official discourse responds to and competes with the Western discourse.

Natural Disaster, Civil Conflicts, and Political Regimes

Yufan Yang

Under Review


Do natural disasters increase the likelihood of civil conflict? Studies in this field have presented competing theories and mixed empirical evidence. I argue that the impact of natural disasters on civil conflict is conditional on domestic politics, especially regime type and the corresponding government response to disasters. Specifically, I argue that autocracies and especially personalist regimes are more likely to experience disaster-induced conflict. It is because that autocracies, which have smaller winning coalitions, are less motivated to invest in disaster management. Further, incompetent government executives and low information transparency make autocratic states less able to reduce casualties. As a consequence, relative deprivation accumulates in autocratic societies after disasters and the willingness for the public to rebel increases. Natural disasters also provide opportunities for rebel groups to mobilize. Using panel data from 1946 to 2018, I find that natural disasters are likely to increase the probability of civil conflict in autocracies, and especially personalist regimes, but not in democracies.

Information Manipulation and Rebellion in Autocratic Regimes



In my dissertation, I seek to understand rebellious behaviors in autocracies from the perspective of collective action and examine how regimes’ information manipulation strategies intervene in the process. I identify three manipulation strategies adopted by the regime: censorship, limited government transparency, and state propaganda. More specifically, I ask, “Under what conditions do these strategies help to deter rebellion and under what conditions do they fail? Which mechanism is at work?” These questions lie at the intersection of collective action, political violence, and information technology, which begins to show increasing importance as mass movements and social media are getting global attention.


In both international relations and comparative politics, scholars emphasize the role of motivation and mobilization in the collective action process. Borrowing from the literature, I develop a theory explaining how regimes may manipulate information to deter collective action via the motivation mechanism and mobilization mechanism. I argue that 1. Censorship and state propaganda deter civil rebellion in autocracies through the mobilization mechanism. The mobilization mechanism is at work because these two strategies send signals to the public and create an environment in which dissidents are uncertain about the fellow citizens’ true preferences, which makes mass mobilization more difficult; 2. The effect of government transparency is contingent on government performance and is realized via the motivation mechanism. Theoretically, this dissertation contributes to our understanding of collective action in autocratic regimes, the interaction between states and societies regarding political violence, as well as the dynamics between information technology and politics.