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Anatomy of a Rally Effect: George W. Bush and the War on Terrorism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 April 2017

Marc J. Hetherington
Affiliation:
assistant professor of government and legal affairs at Bowdoin College. He has published several articles in the American Political Science Review and other journals.
Michael Nelson
Affiliation:
professor of political science at Rhodes College, has just published the seventh edition of The Presidency and the Political System and the fourth edition of The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776–2002. He would like to thank John Lyman Mason for helpful comments on the first half of this article.

Abstract

The “rally-round-the-flag effect” sparked by the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and by President George W. Bush's prompt launching of the War on Terrorism cries out for the kind of timely analysis that political scientists sometimes can provide. A rally effect is the sudden and substantial increase in public approval of the president that occurs in response to certain kinds of dramatic international events involving the United States. The September 11 rally effect is distinctive for at least three reasons. First, of all the recorded rally effects, it is the largest. Bush's approval rating soared in the Gallup Poll from 51% on September 10 to 86% on September 15.The president's approval rating is the percentage of survey respondents who answer “approve” to the question: “Do you approve or disapprove of the job [name] is doing as president?” This 35-point increase nearly doubles the previous record, the 18-point boost triggered by his father's launch of Operation Desert Storm in January 1991. Second, the further increase in Bush's approval rating to 90% on September 22 represents the highest rating ever recorded for a president (Morin 2001). Third, the September 11 rally effect has lasted longer than any in the history of polling. As of November 10, 2002, Bush's approval rating was 68%—22 points below its peak but still much higher than his rating 13 months earlier.

Type
FEATURES
Copyright
2003 by the American Political Science Association

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