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Challenges in Conducting Surveys of Political Extremists
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*Timothy Patrick Johnson, University of Illinois at Chicago 
Allyson L Holbrook, University of Illinois at Chicago 
Keith Atterberry, University of Illinois at Chicago 

Keywords: political extremists

Collecting survey data from persons affiliated with extremist political groups presents unique challenges not often faced by researchers investigating other hard-to-reach populations. These include the absence of reliable methods for constructing sample frames for populations that often do not wish to be identified, as well as the secrecy, suspicion and distrust that is often manifest among members of these often loosely-organized groups, and which makes approaching them difficult and possibly dangerous. For purposes of this study, we define extremist political extremists as individuals who have social, economic, religious and/or political goals and beliefs that they believe require the overthrow or transformation of a central or local government, or at a minimum the violation of established laws, in order to achieve. Examples within the United States would include individuals who are formally or informally associated with the Ku Klux Klan, militia groups, neo-Nazi groups, extremist animal rights groups, extremist environmentalist groups, and anarchists. Each of these groups advocates civil disobedience using either violent of non-violent tactics, to achieve its objectives. Within the context of the available literature, this chapter will review strategies that have been previously employed by social researchers to sample and interview political extremists. We will conclude with recommendations for practitioners looking for advice on best practices when attempting to conduct surveys of political extremists as well as future research needs.

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