Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-2bkkj Total loading time: 0.554 Render date: 2022-09-25T22:11:23.560Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

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
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
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.


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.

2003 by the American Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bowen Gordon L.1989 Presidential Action and Public Opinion about U.S. Nicaraguan Policy: Limits to the Rally Round the Flag Syndrome PS: Political Science and Politics 22 793 800Google Scholar
Brody Richard A.2002 The American People and President Bush The Forum Scholar
Brody Richard A.Catherine R. Shapiro1991 The Rally Phenomenon in Public OpinionAssessing the President: The Media, Elite Opinion, and Public SupportBrodyStanfordStanford University Press
Callaghan Karen J.Simon Virtanen1993 Revised Models of the Rally Phenomenon: The Case of the Carter Presidency Journal of Politics 55 756 764Google Scholar
Edwards George C.1990 Presidential Approval: A SourcebookBaltimoreJohns Hopkins University Press
Edwards George C.Tami Swenson1997 Who Rallies? The Anatomy of a Rally Event Journal of Politics 59 200 212Google Scholar
Greenstein Fred1960 The Benevolent Leader: Children's Images of Political Authority American Political Science Review 54 934 944Google Scholar
Greenstein Fred1975 The Benevolent Leader Revisited: Children's Images of Political Leaders in Three Democracies American Political Science Review 69 1371 1398Google Scholar
Kernell Samuel1978 Explaining Presidential Popularity American Political Science Review 72 506 522Google Scholar
Kernell Samuel1993 Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential LeadershipWashington, DCCQ Press
Krosnick Jon A.Laura A. Brannon1993 The Impact of the Gulf War on the Ingredients of Presidential Evaluations: Multidimensional Effects of Political Involvement American Political Science Review 87 963 975Google Scholar
Lee Jong R.1977 Rally Around the Flag: Foreign Policy Events and Presidential Popularity Presidential Studies Quarterly 7 252 256Google Scholar
MacKuen Michael B.1983 Political Drama, Economic Conditions, and the Dynamics of Presidential Popularity American Journal of Political Science 27 165 192Google Scholar
Moore David W.Jeffrey M. Jones2002 Late Shift Toward Republicans in Congressional Vote 4Google Scholar
Morin Richard2001 He Has the Public's Approval Washington Post National Weekly Edition September 24–30 8Google Scholar
Mueller John E.1973 War, Presidents, and Public OpinionNew YorkWiley
Nagourney AdamJanet Elder2002 In Poll, Americans Say Both Parties Lack VisionNew YorkTimes, November 3
Nelson Michael2003 George W. Bush and Congress: The Electoral ConnectionConsidering the Bush PresidencyMark J. RozellGary L. GreggNew YorkOxford University Press (in press)
Parker Suzanne L.1995 Toward an Understanding of Rally Effects: Public Opinion in the Persian Gulf War Public Opinion Quarterly 59 526 546Google Scholar
Polsby Nelson W.Congress and the Presidency1964 Englewood CliffsNJPrentice-Hall
Rossiter Clinton1960 The American PresidencyNew YorkNew American Library
Sheatsley Paul BJacob J. Feldman1964 The Assassination of President Kennedy: Public Reactions Public Opinion Quarterly 28 189 215Google Scholar
Sigelman LeePatricia Johnston Conover1981 The Dynamics of Presidential Support During International Conflict Situations Political Behavior 3 303 318Google Scholar
Waltz Kenneth N.1967 Electoral Punishment and Foreign Policy CrisesDomestic Sources of Foreign PolicyJames N. RosenauNew YorkFree Press
Wicker Tom1967 In the Nation: Peace, It's WonderfulNew YorkTimes, July 4
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

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

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

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

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

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

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *