Whither Civil Defense and Homeland Security in the Study of Public Policy? A Look at Research on the Policy, the Public, and the Process

Joseph T. Ripberger
University of Oklahoma
Center for Applied Social Research
3100 Monitor Ave., Suite 100
Norman, OK 73072

Though the policy science movement was born with the purpose of counseling the Department of Defense on a plethora of security matters, modern research within the field of public policy has tended to neglect issues of defense and security focusing instead on a wide variety of domestic problems. This nearly exclusive focus on domestic issues remained largely intact until September 11, 2001, when the threat of terrorism propelled defense and security back onto the disciplinary research agenda. Though exceptionally slow to adjust, policy scholars are gradually coming to terms with this new reality and are beginning to focus on security and defense in a way that informs policymakers and advances policy theory. This research note is meant to introduce interested readers to this trend by exploring broad themes and exemplar works within the field over the last few years.


The systematic study of public policy, which largely grew out of the policy sciences movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s, has evolved a great deal over time. In addition to countless theoretical and methodological innovations, the register of substantive issues that problem-oriented policy scholars have tackled in the last 60 years is increasingly expansive. Contemporary research topics range from the minute details of nanotechnology and cognitive risk perceptions to the macro-politics of environmental concern and anthropogenic climate change. Given this massive scope and the inherently bounded nature of scholarly attention, it should be no surprise that issue coverage within the field of public policy is somewhat ephemeral. As societal needs thrust new problems onto the disciplinary research agenda, policy scholars generally adjust by addressing new issues and temporarily discounting others.

Research on defense and security policy in the US represents an intriguing example of the aforementioned process. In the late 1930s through the mid-1940s, societal needs revolved around the Second World War (WWII). Largely in response to these needs, the policy science movement was born with the purpose of counseling the Department of Defense on a plethora of matters, ranging from resource allocation and efficiency to Nazi propaganda and public opinion during the wartime. In the early 1950s, issues related to WWII tapered in significance and policy researchers slowly shifted from a focus on defense and security to pressing domestic problems, like inequality and rampant poverty. This trend continued until the mid 1960s, when the conflict in Vietnam escalated and Robert McNamara and his “Whiz Kids” called on policy analysts to streamline the wartime budget by “rationalizing” the decisions made about risk, strategic priorities, and defense expenditures. Accordingly, the disciplinary agenda remained interested in defense and security until the mid to late 1970s when the Vietnam era waned and policy scholars once again turned to issues of domestic importance, including energy shortages, educational inequality, social welfare, and environmental degradation.

Aside from the occasional voyage into Cold War politics, this nearly exclusive focus on domestic issues among mainstream policy scholars remained largely intact until September 11, 2001, when the threat of terrorism propelled defense and security back onto the disciplinary research agenda. Though exceptionally slow to adjust, modern policy scholars have come to terms with this new reality and are beginning to focus on security and defense in a way that informs policymakers and advances policy theory. This research note is meant to introduce interested readers to this trend by exploring broad themes and exemplar works within the field over the last few years. In recognizing that no single article can meaningfully discuss everything that has been written about defense and security policy, I focus specifically on research related to civil defense and homeland security policy designed to protect the United States against terrorist activity. Though this decision necessarily limits the scope of this paper, I am confident that this focus casts a net that is broad enough to capture major themes in recent research.

In order to structure the ensuing discussion, I borrow from Hofferbert’s (1974) “funnel of causality”, to categorize recent research into multiple levels of generality. Though feedback loops are surely pervasive, it is heuristically useful to think of public policy as deriving from various forces that operate directly and indirectly at different levels of abstraction. For example, Hofferbert (1974) looked at the way in which mass political behavior influences governmental instructions, which in turn shape elite decisions, and ultimately policy outcomes. With the spirit of this argument in mind, I categorize recent research on defense and national security policy into three different levels—the policy, the process, and the public (Figure 1).

In order to better frame this discussion, the note starts with the policy section, which is the most specific level. In this section I introduce research that analyses several different aspects of homeland security policy. In so doing, the discussion highlights the rationality of national funding in response to differential levels of risk, local coordination and implementation in a multijurisdictional maze of federalism, and closes with a more general look at the extraordinary difficulties associated with protecting the homeland and how policymakers and analysts should attend to these monumental challenges. From there, I move on to the second section, which introduces research on the more general policy process wherein defense and security policy is made and changed. Though work on this front is relatively scant, scholars are making rapid progress by considering the way in which the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent elevation of threat have rippled through multiple subsystems and redefined the administrative landscape. Finally, this scope expands even further by transcending the institutions of government to consider research on public perceptions and beliefs about homeland security policy. In particular, this section focuses on research that deals with a core dialectic that constrains modern questions about homeland security policy in the United States—namely, to what degree is the public willing to sacrifice civil liberty and civil rights in order to enhance national security? After introducing exemplar pieces of research within the aforementioned categories, I offer a few concluding remarks and then look briefly at what the future holds for the study of defense and security in the field of public policy.

Figure 1. Levels of Generality.

The Policy

On September 11, 2001, a group of 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and crashed them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, VA, and into the ground outside of Shanksville, PA. When the dust settled, 2,976 people had died and more than 6,000 others were injured. Since then, the US government has launched an international war against terrorism and dedicated an enormous amount of resources towards protecting the domestic front from another catastrophic attack. For example, as the centerpiece of this effort, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spends more than $50 billion a year to identify, defeat, and mitigate threats to the safety of the American people. Like most public policies, the goal of defending the homeland from another terrorist attack is laudable yet more complex than any one person can imagine. Accordingly, sound analysis of homeland security policy that is both descriptive and prescriptive is imperative.

With this in mind, Tyler Prante and Bohara (2008) attempt to answer a rather simple yet important question—what factors influence the way in which the DHS allocates grant funding? To answer this question Prante and Bohara pit two relatively plausable theories against one another. On the one hand, rationalist theory expects that relative threat of a terrorist attack that states face will govern the allocation process. In brief, they argue, states incurring a higher risk should receive more funding. Rivaling the rationalist theory, previous research suggests that the policymaking process is at most boundedly rational and influenced by a myriad of political variables, such as “pork barrel” politics. Thus, the “political” hypothesis suggests state partisanship and distributive politics are more important than relative risk in determining state DHS funding. To test these two theories, Prante and Bohara construct a series of econometric models which creatively compare the explanatory validity of the contending theories. In doing so, they find robust support for the rationalist and normatively reassuring notion that the risk of terrorist attack is positively associated with DHS grant allocations. By contrast, they find no support for the widely popular claim that allocation decisions are politically motivated. In other words, it appears that security considerations are more influencial than political concerns in explaining patterns of DHS funding.

Having briefly touched upon the genral determinants of homeland security spending, Erica Chenoweth and Clarke (2010) build upon Prante and Bohara (2008) to address the obvious corollary and perhaps more important question of implementation and local performance. In a federal system such as the US, protecting the homeland from a terrorist attack is an extremely challenging undertaking that demands constant cooperation and clear communication within and across a wide variety of jurisdictions. For example, though the federal and state governments are intimately involved in coordinating and financing homeland security efforts, local city/municipal governments are the first responders if an attack were to occur. This system of disjointed federalism creates a labyrinth of collective action and governance problems that hinder the implementation of crucial policy initiatives and ultimately jeopardize national security.

Chenoweth and Clarke (2010) highlight this problem by examining city attempts to improve communications interoperability—the critically important ability of emergency responders and governmental authorities to talk and share data during a crisis situation in order to reduce the consequences of a terrorist attack. In addition to the availability of resources (funding) they hypothesize that governance maturity as well as institutional structure will influence city attempts to improve interoperability. After statistically comparing 48 US cities, they come to a number of interesting conclusions. First, and perhaps most surprisingly, they find that increased funding is not related to successful implementation, when controlling for governance and institutional context. In short it appears that simply increasing the resources allocated to a city is not sufficient to solve problems related to communications interoperability. Rather, they conclude that cities with relatively mature governance structures, high levels of multijurisdictional participation, and formal agreements that clearly delegate responsibility across participating jurisdictions have a discernable performance advantage over cities with informally structured relationships and highly autonomous decision makers.

Extending these findings to homeland security policy in general sheds light on a number of important issues that researchers and policymakers alike should note. First and foremost, coordination during a security crisis is highly desirable but it is not automatic. Second, increasing security funding does not necessarily induce coordination, nor does it solve the collective action problem associated with emergency response. Third, local governance and institutional context are essential considerations when thinking about how to improve homeland security policies. In other words, DHS officials looking to advance state and local implementation efforts should explicitly attempt to build partnerships between stakeholders from multiple policy sectors and levels of government that are supported by codified rules and protocols.

Whereas Chenoweth and Clarke (2010) consider the local challenges associated with implementing emergency mitigation procedures, Jonh Mueller (2010a) broadens this scope to analyze the general cost effectiveness of “passive defense” or protection measures designed to make potential targets less vulnerable to terrorists attack. In doing so, Mueller begins by introducing several factors that dramatically complicate policy formulation and implementation. For instance, he notes that the number of potential terrorist targets is essentially infinite and that target selection is an effectively random process. As a result, Mueller suggests, it is virtually impossible and perhaps even futile to make a priori decisions about which targets to defend. Compounding this difficulty, actors can readily change targets if an original plan is foiled. Thus, as opposed to preventing an attack, the protection of a specific target means that other targets will necessarily become more vulnerable. These factors, in conjunction with his argument that the number of terrorists within the US appears to be much smaller and less capable than originally feared, lead Mueller to his central thesis that the majority of current efforts to protect the homeland from terrorist attacks are “highly questionable” and should therefore be reconsidered. Upon reconsideration, he argues, policymakers should base their decisions on a systematic cost-benefit analysis of each protective measure that includes a frank discussion of the probability and likely consequences of another attack.

Unsatisfied with this assessment, Warren Eller and Gerber (2010) contend that many of Mueller’s critical assumptions are suspect and that his overall analytical framework is woefully oversimplified. As a result, they argue that Mueller (2010a) does not provide an adequate basis for analysis of homeland security policy. Instead, Eller and Gerber insist that prescriptive policy analysts must embrace the complexity of security policy by incorporating a number of important dimensions that Mueller failed to consider. For example, rather than analytically isolating protection policies from other goals such as mitigation, preparedness, response, and/or disaster recovery (which Mueller self-consciously does) Eller and Gerber argue that analysts must consider homeland security as a system of interacting variables that combine to enhance national security. Failure to do so, they believe, necessarily distorts an already messy picture and prohibits the advancement of useful policy alternatives. Likewise, because US security policy is formulated and implemented in a boundedly rational democratic society, where policymakers face direct electoral pressures, policy researchers and analysts alike cannot afford to neglect differential perceptions of risk among the mass public. For instance, despite Mueller’s point that the risk of another terrorist attack is exceedingly low, large swaths of the public continue to feel threatened and therefore place a tremendous amount of pressure on the government to make the nation more secure. As such, policymakers weigh the costs and benefits of a security measure as balanced against the demands of society—sometimes this results in a policy that is not “Pareto optimal.” More importantly, when it comes to the calculation of risk, Eller and Gerber agree that the odds of a terrorist attack on any single target are rather slim; however, they contend that the probability of an attack is not evenly distributed across all targets. Accordingly, they argue that it is possible to rank targets according to the likelihood of attack and therefore it is possible to prioritize security efforts. This difference in opinion makes protection and defense possible and worth pursuing.

In response to Eller and Gerber’s rebuttal, Mueller (2010b) makes a number of points that scholars interested in analyzing risk and homeland security should keep in mind. Most notably, he reiterates the role that probability should play in calculating risks and making policy. In particular he maintains that sensationalized “worst-case” thinking and additive rather than multiplicative risk equations, both of which are embraced by the DHS, lead to the continued overestimation of risk and ultimately misinformed homeland security policy. Ultimately, the debate about risk and the appropriate role of the government in protecting the homeland from another terrorist attack is one that cannot be settled by way of two articles in a single academic journal. Instead Eller and Gerber as well as Mueller provide an engaging discussion that will hopefully urge policy scholars to remain focused on the understudied yet “remarkably fecund issue area of counterterrorism policy” which promises to advance both substantive and theoretical goals (Eller & Gerber, 2010, p. 36).

The Process

Having briefly introduced a few different pieces of scholarship that address the specifics of particular homeland security polices, I turn now to the policy process, wherein governmental institutions translate societal problems into policy outcomes. As mentioned at the beginning of this note, research in this area has been rather slow to develop, perhaps reflecting the notion that protecting the homeland from terrorism is a highly complex issue that straddles the traditional lines that divide domestic policy, international relations, emergency management, and public administration. For example, unlike traditional domestic policies that are processed and made in a pluralistic legislative atmosphere dominated by advocacy coalitions and subsystem politics, homeland security policy cuts across multiple subsystems, many of which are shrouded in exclusivity, and secrecy, and heavily influenced by the executive, bureaucratic, and military wings of the government. Among other things, these complexities challenge traditional theories of the policy process and force researchers to broaden their understanding of politics and policy.

Peter May, Joshua Sapotichne, and Samuel Workman (2009a) embrace the aforementioned challenge by stepping back and viewing the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent threat of terrorism as a relatively rare “widespread” policy disruption that engaged actors from a variety of issue areas and disturbed multiple subsystems at once. With this focus in mind, May and his collaborators trace the disruptive threat of terrorism within and across eight different subsystems, all of which are now tasked with various measures designed to protect the homeland.9 In so doing, the authors compare and contrast patterns of subsystem attentiveness, policymaking activity, and federal agency involvement. With regard to attentiveness, they find that all eight subsystems devoted substantially more time and energy towards understanding the threat of terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. Despite this sudden and relatively universal spike in attention, May, Sapotichne, and Workman show that capturing the attention of policymakers in the different subsystems is insufficient to motivate heightened levels of policymaking across the board. Rather, policymaking activity increased in those subsystems most closely associated with the threat of terrorism, like domestic preparedness, and decreased in relevant but peripheral subsystems, like food safety. In considering how federal agencies have responded to the threat of the terrorism, May et al. find that bureaucratic attention to terrorism also spiked in 2001, but that attention did not necessarily lead to influence. In particular, the DHS, which threatened to fundamentally restructure institutional relationships within subsystems, had a relatively muted impact that was restricted to subsystems not previously dominated by a particular bureaucratic agency (like border protection). Considered in total, these findings suggest that 9/11 and the subsequent threat of terrorism invoked a great deal of attention from both policymakers and agency officials, but did not fundamentally alter the unit responsible for policymaking and change—the subsystem.

Continuing with this focus on 9/11 and the lingering threat of terrorism, May, Sapotichne, and Workman (2009b) look at how this disruption affected the mobilization of interest groups within the abovementioned subsystems. Several theories of the policy process, including multiple streams (Kingdon, 1984), punctuated equilibrium (Baumgartner & Jones, 1993) and the advocacy coalition framework (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1993), suggest that major external events—like 9/11—will shock subsystems, creating an environment of uncertainty and jurisdictional ambiguity that beguiles the interest of previously uninvolved groups. To test this theory, May et al. examine interest mobilization within all eight subsystems before and after 9/11. With regard to mobilization in general, they find that interest group involvement in subsystems varied a great deal in the aftermath of 9/11. In subsystems that are completely disrupted by threat of terrorism, like domestic security and public health, interest mobilization nearly doubles. By comparison, in relatively unperturbed subsystems, like information security, mobilization actually decreases. After noting this differential in general mobilization patterns across subsystems, May and his coauthors go on to dissect the process of mobilization into the types of interests most likely involved, the diversity of interests involved in each subsystem, and the spillover of interests across subsystems. With regard to the types of interests involved, they found that local, state, and regional interests, as well as bureaucratic and other experts are most involved in the eight subsystems. This is exactly what we would expect, the authors argue, in the aftermath of an event that creates such high levels of uncertainty—subsystem members were self-consciously relying on interests that could provide them with as much information as possible about the terrorist threat. In terms of diversity and the spillover, the theoretically derived expectation of an interest upheaval or “free for all” was not supported; rather, despite large increases in intensity, the types of interests involved in the highly disrupted domestic security and public health subsystems were relatively consistent before and after 2001. Likewise, representatives from the major subsystems did not migrate from one subsystem to another in order to conquer unoccupied policy space. In all, the findings in this study parallel the lessons drawn from the previously discussed piece—despite the dramatic way in which terrorism was thrust onto the policy agenda, subsystems are stabilizing forces that resist major disruption.

Having looked at the direct influence of the terrorism disruption on a variety of policymaking subsystems, Peter May, Samuel Workman, and Bryan Jones (2008) move on to look at how federal agencies responded to the threat of terrorism and how those choices have affected their ability to respond to policy demands. In brief, they argue, the terrorist attacks of 2001 ignited an extreme degree of fear and anxiety in the American public, which quickly turned into immense pressure on elected policymakers to enhance national security. In responding to this pressure, policymakers demanded that federal agencies “do much more” and “do things differently” to protect the homeland. In reacting to these demands, the federal bureaucracy was forced to choose between two organizational strategies. On the one hand, the bureaucracy could have gone down the traditional path of delegating authority and creating formal routines to deal with the terrorism threat. By comparison, the bureaucracy had the option to centralize authority and create new decision-making rules that were rather informal but more flexible. Ultimately, because of the unique and dramatic nature of the terrorism disruption (which demanded a speedy and “different” response), May and his colleagues find that the Office of Homeland Security (OHS), which eventually became the DHS, opted to go with a centralized approach. This decision meant that authority was concentrated at the top of the bureaucracy and that coordination with subordinate agencies was conducted by way of flexible informal guidelines. This decision had profound consequences that have reverberated throughout the public sector. In particular, this concentration of authority combined with the prolonged salience of terrorism as an issue, pushed the DHS to concentrate almost exclusively on the threat of another attack, which crowded out attention to other issues like natural disaster preparedness, destabilized the funding available to state agencies, and created an environment of distrust among intergovernmental partners. As a result, the authors argue, the DHS was unprepared for events like Hurricane Katrina and has been unsuccessful in bolstering cooperation and communication across federal jurisdictions.

In addition to providing a closer look at the way in which homeland security policy evolved in the aftermath of 9/11, these three articles clearly demonstrate an earlier point that was made by Eller and Gerber (2010) and reiterated by Mueller (2010b). Namely, that focusing on defense and security policy promises to simultaneously advance Lasswell’s twin goals of injecting knowledge into and extracting theoretical deductions from the policy process.11 With regard to theory, the work of May and his collaborators has pushed boundaries of organizational theory and agenda setting and challenged the way in which future scholars should think about the massive disruptions like 9/11 and the way in which they reverberate throughout the policymaking process. In particular, widespread disruptions seem to create temporary chaos that is diffused relatively quickly by the equilibrating influence of previously established subsystems. Only time and additional research will tell whether or not this is an anomalistic phenomenon unique to homeland security, or an insight that can be generalized to widespread disruptions in other domains.

The Public

As noted by Eller and Gerber (2010) and a host of other researchers, mass perceptions about risk and security are an extremely important feature of the post-9/11 policy landscape. In addition to stimulating the institutional agenda, public perceptions and beliefs on terrorism and security fuel coalitions and shape policy alternatives by constraining mass preferences and delineating the boundaries within which policymakers are expected to act.12 Accordingly, a number of recent articles have attempted to better specify the relationship between public perceptions, policy preferences, and homeland security policy. Many of these works are united by a common interest in understanding public willingness to sacrifice freedom (civil rights and liberties) in order to enhance national security.

Hank Jenkins-Smith and Herron (2009) introduce this theme by briefly examining different points throughout history where US citizens were asked to suspend personal freedoms in order to maintain the security of the nation. Having situated their research in the broader context, Jenkins-Smith and Herron go on to explore the belief structures that underlie public preferences for liberty over security, and vice-versa. In doing so, they draw upon a national survey conducted in 2007 to find that preferences are systematically influenced by political orientations and supported by a hierarchy of beliefs. With regard to political orientation, they conclude that Democrats normatively prefer policies that balance freedom over security, whereas Republicans tend to rank security ahead of liberty. Likewise, though conditioned by political affinity, they find that relatively abstract core beliefs like ideology and political culture consistently constrain more specific domain beliefs like perceptions of security and trust in government, which then influence particular policy beliefs about the proper emphasis the government should place on protecting civil liberties. In addition to highlighting the fault lines that divide large segments of the population, this finding supports the revisionist notion of a rational public capable of making coherent policy decisions in a highly technical yet poignant domain such as homeland security policy in the aftermath of 9/11.

Like Jenkins-Smith and Herron (2009), a number of researchers have empirically established the intuitive connection between confidence or trust in government and support for restrictive national security policies.13 On average, people who express high levels of confidence in the government’s ability to combat terrorism will support policies that are otherwise controversial. Whereas Jenkins-Smith and Herron (2009) argue that this trust is a function of core political, cultural, and ideological beliefs, Kimberly Gross, Paul Brewer, and Sean Aday (2009) look to uncover the emotional sources of confidence in government. In particular, they expect that retrospective feelings of pride and prospective feelings of hope will systematically influence the amount of confidence an individual has in the government. To test this proposition they imaginatively analyze panel and cross-sectional surveys conducted in 2001 and 2002. In their cross-sectional analysis, they find positive relationships between hope, pride, and confidence in government in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. At a given point of time, higher levels of hope and pride correspond with higher levels of confidence. Moving on to their panel results, they find mixed support for the temporal nature of these relationships. Respondents who reported higher levels of hope in 2001 were more likely to maintain elevated levels of confidence in 2002. On the other hand, when controlling for previous levels of hope and confidence, feelings of pride during 2001 were not statistically related to continued confidence in 2002. In all, this piece successfully argues that emotions—in addition to political factors such as partisanship—are important to consider when discussing public trust in government and subsequent willingness to support restrictive security policies.

As compared to the previous studies—which sought to discover the factors that influence perceptions about the appropriate balance of liberty and security in general—Thomas Sanquist, Heidi Mahy, and Fredrick Morris (2008) attempt to explain differential reactions to a series of specific measures designed to enhance homeland security. To accomplish this, Sanquist and his coauthors draw upon research within the risk and technology paradigm.14 In doing so, they employ a psychometric survey and multivariate analysis to explain support for 12 different security policies, ranging from relatively benign measures like airport passenger and baggage screening to more invasive practices like monitoring of internet and email, or using the global positioning system (GPS) in cell phones and cars to locate potential offenders. In general, they find that two perceptions systematically constrain individual acceptance of the different security policies—perceived effectiveness and perceived intrusiveness. If the public is convinced that a particular policy is valid, accurate, enhances national security, and that it derives a personal benefit, they are likely to support it. Such policies include airport security, canine detectors, and radiation monitoring at border crossings. By contrast, if the public believes that a measure directly infringes upon civil liberties, causes public embarrassment, or leads to financial loss, they are more likely to oppose it. In other words, members of the public appear to evaluate potential security measures in a rational way; they support beneficial (effective) policies and oppose costly (intrusive) policies.

Narrowing this focus even further to a particular security measure—the REAL ID Act passed by Congress in 2005—Valentina Bali (2009) applies many of the aforementioned insights in order to better understand the prospects for policy success. In so doing, she asks a random sample of Michigan residents to answer a number of questions concerning reform in personal identification policies. In accordance with recent research, she finds that general support for national identification reforms is relatively high. Perhaps this reflects the general perception that such policies are comparatively less intrusive yet potentially effective. Likewise, with regard to the individual characteristics that influence preferences, she finds that trust in government, heightened concerns about terrorism, and political conservatism are positively related to policy support. Having corroborated previous research, she then adds a new dimension to the debate—framing. In brief, she finds that public opinion is fairly sensitive to the way in which the identification policy is sold. If threats such as terrorism and illegal immigration are emphasized, support for the policy increases. However, contrary to her expectation, a frame based on the erosion of civil liberties does not induce policy opposition. This null finding is interesting but not necessarily surprising; perhaps it is difficult for members of the public to equate national ID policies with a tangible loss of liberty. If she were studying security policies like wiretapping or photo surveillance, which entail a concrete loss of individual freedom, perhaps the civil liberty frame would have become more salient.

Continuing with this theme, Deborah Schildkraut (2009) examines public support for ethnic profiling in the US as a way to enhance national security. Though similar to the previously mentioned studies, Schildkraut’s explicit focus on ethnic profiling moves policy research beyond civil liberties into the domain of civil rights. This shift, though it may seem trivial, significantly alters the calculus involved in how members of the public make decisions about which policies to support. Whereas infringements upon civil liberty involve a direct and personal loss of freedom, infringements upon civil rights generally restrict the freedom of others. Accordingly, many of the factors that influence support for ethnic profiling are related to public perceptions about “the other.” In stressing this fact, Schildkraut expects that individual conceptions of what it means to be “an American” will powerfully influence support for policies that restrict civil rights—like ethnic profiling or even internment. To test this theory, she designs a survey to measure two different conceptions of national identity—ethnoculturalism and liberalism. Those scoring high on the ethnocultural scale are thought to be highly traditional, set rigid boundaries around American identity, and therefore likely to support ethnic profiling policies. By contrast, survey respondents scoring highly on the liberal scale are likely to endorse universal rights, minimal government intervention, equality of opportunity, and therefore reject the idea of ethnic profiling. After controlling for alternative explanations like race, partisanship, patriotism, and perceived security from terrorism, Schildkraut finds that ethnoculturalism and liberalism are powerful constructs that systematically influence support for ethnic profiling. In summary, this suggests that individual willingness to support homeland security policies that restrict civil rights is influenced by differential conceptions of American identity.

As was mentioned at the beginning of this section, public perceptions about threat and security have influenced homeland security policy in a number of direct and indirect ways. At the most basic level, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 generated extreme feelings of anxiety, vulnerability, and fear among the American people, which was quickly translated into direct pressure on elected officials to make the country a safer place. As the scholars introduced in this section have noted, many of these policies have circumscribed individual freedoms and jeopardized civil rights. This has forced political officials and the American people to wrestle with a fundamental question that has plagued the nation since the Constitutional Convention in 1787—how much freedom should be sacrificed in the name of national security? As expected in an age of increasing ideological and cultural polarization, answers to this question range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Fortunately, as the aforementioned scholarship has demonstrated, a rather limited number of commonly held values, perceptions, and beliefs appear to unite broad coalitions of people that interact to draw the appropriate line between security and freedom. In turn, this line will set the boundaries around which policymakers are expected to act—moving too far in either direction is likely to invoke an unwanted electoral backlash. Accordingly, as the attacks on 9/11 become an increasingly distant memory and new events spark the attentiveness of the American people, it is important that policy scholars continue to monitor and systematically organize the evolution of public perceptions and beliefs about freedom and security in the modern age of terrorism.

Concluding Remarks

As has been argued throughout this note, the violent attacks on September 11, 2001 and the subsequent threat of terrorism spawned an intense societal demand for safety in what was previously thought to be a steadfast and secure American nation. In responding to this demand, problem-oriented policy scholars have slowly adapted by once again adding defense and security to the disciplinary agenda. In reflecting upon the state of current research, I hearken back to the Hofferbert’s (1974) funnel metaphor, which organizes the direct and indirect forces that impact policy outcomes by way of descending generality. In particular, though defense and security scholarship is quite diverse, the majority of recent work among mainstream policy scholars can be roughly placed into one of three categories or “levels of generality”—research on the policy, the process, or the public. Whereas research at the policy level tends towards policy analysis, research on the policy process focuses on the way in which the institutions of government translate problems into broader policy action, and research on the public looks at the way in which individual perceptions and beliefs shape mass preferences.

Looking now to the future, researchers should focus on synthesizing this research by explicitly concentrating on the mechanisms that link the different levels of analysis. How, for example, do public beliefs and perceptions about freedom and security influence the policy process and, in turn, constrain policy analysis and outcomes? Correspondingly, how do particular policy decisions discursively affect public perceptions and beliefs about the future of homeland security? In all, though a great deal of work remains, policy scholars are to be commended for embracing the complexities associated with homeland security and the tremendous progress that has been made in the last few years of research. This renewed interest in defense and national security promises to advance the discipline, both in terms of substance and theory.

Joseph T. Ripberger is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Oklahoma. His research focuses on national security, the policy process, public opinion, and agenda setting.

The author would like to thank Hank Jenkins-Smith, Kuhika Gupta, Matthew Nowlin, Cyndi Ripberger, and the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier iterations of this manuscript.


  1. For an excellent depiction of the endogenous and exogenous forces responsible for the development of the Public Policy as a field, see deLeon (1988).
  2. For an exemplar look at defense and security policy during the Cold War, see deLeon (1987).
  3. In that this paper is focused of policy research, I began my search for recent scholarship to journals targeting a policy audience (i.e., Policy Studies Journal, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Politics & Policy, Review of Policy Research, Journal of Public Policy). From there, I broadened my search to general adience journals (i.e., American Journal of Political Science, Political Research Quarterly, American Politics Research, etc.). Lastly, I scanned two specific journals which have published a great deal on the topic of homeland security—Risk Analysis and Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
  4. Note that this decision means that this piece necessarily excludes recent research on other aspects of security and defense policy, which include topics such as foreign policy, national security strategy, and military politics. Likewise, recent research on natural disaster preparedness and other nonterrorism-related facets of homeland security are beyond the scope of this discussion. If interested in better understanding the many different facets of homeland security, see Bellavita (2008).
  5. See also Hofferbert and Urice (1985).
  6. For a fascinating and innovative look at the governance problems associated with homeland security policy, see May, Jochim, Sapotichne, (2010) and Jochim and May (2010).
  7. This is not to say that these are the only two articles that attempt to systematically understand the risks associated additional terrorist attacks. For example, see Robinson, Hammit, Aldy, Krupnick, Baxter (2010), Rose (2009), Farrow and Shapiro (2009), and Chen, Wu, Wu, (2009) for other recent discussions on how to value the risks associated with terrorist attacks as well as the costs and benefits of particular measures.
  8. For a relatively concise but well written introduction to the multidisciplinary complexities associated with homeland security and emergency management policy, see Sylves (2008). See especially Chapter 7, which directly addresses the relationship between the military, the executive, and the legislative branches of government.
  9. These subsystems include: food safety, technological accident preparedness and response, natural disaster preparedness and response, border protection, transportation security, public health emergencies, information security, and domestic preparedness.
  10. For more on the downstream administrative consequences of 9/11, and the relationship between terrorism and emergency management, refer to Birkland (2009).
  11. See Lasswell (1971) for more on the different purposes of policy research.
  12. For more on how public perceptions influence the institutional agenda, see Jones and Baumgartner (2005). For a discussion about public opinion and policy coalitions, refer to Jones and Jenkins-Smith (2009). For more on the relationship between public opinion and policy alternatives, see Kingdon (1973).
  13. For example, see Baldwin, Ramaprasad, Samsa (2008), Davis and Silver (2004), and Davis (2007).
  14. For a brief introduction to this school of thought, refer to Slovic (1987; 2000).


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