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The Effects of Government-Issued Terror Warnings on Presidential Approval Ratings

Robb Willer. 2004. “The Effects of Government-Issued Terror Warnings on Presidential Approval Ratings.”  Current Research in Social Psychology.10(1): 1-12.

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This study investigates the possibility that government-issued terror warnings could increase support for the president. This contention is supported anecdotally by the large increase in presidential approval immediately following the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001. Additionally, social identity theory suggests that fear of external attacks leads to increased support for standing leaders. To evaluate this proposition, I conducted several time-series analyses on the relationship between government-issued terror warnings reported in the Washington Post between February 2001 and May 2004, and Gallup poll data on Americans’ opinions of President George W. Bush. Across several regression models, results showed a consistent, positive relationship between terror warnings and presidential approval. I also found that government-issued terror warnings increased support for President Bush’s handling of the economy. Analyses intended to determine the duration of these effects were inconclusive.

Current Research in Social Psychology
2004