Terrorist warnings boost Bush's approval ratings

October 04, 2004

ITHACA, N.Y. -- When the federal government issues a terrorist warning, presidential approval ratings jump, a Cornell University sociologist finds. Interestingly, terrorist warnings also boost support for the president on issues that are largely irrelevant to terrorism, such as his handling of the economy.

Robb Willer, assistant director of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell and a doctoral candidate in sociology who expects his Ph.D. in May 2005, tracked the 26 times that a federal government agency reported an increased threat of terrorist activity in the United States between February 2001 and May 2004. He also tracked the 131 Gallup Polls that were conducted during the same period. He then conducted several time-series and regression analyses on the relationship between government-issued terror warnings and Gallup Poll data on approval ratings of President George W. Bush.

"Results showed that terror warnings increased presidential approval ratings consistently," says Willer. "They also increased support for Bush's handling of the economy. The findings, however, were inconclusive as to how long this halo effect lasts."

Willer's study is published in the Sept. 30 issue of Current Research in Social Psychology , a peer-reviewed online journal, at http://www.uiowa.edu/%7Egrpproc/crisp/crisp10_1.pdf .

When Willer linked the warnings to presidential ratings from 2001 to 2004, he found that each terror warning prompted, on average, a 2.75 point increase in the president's approval rating the following week.

Willer points to the aftermath of the Sep. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as an example of the tendency. After Sept. 11, 2001, approval of Bush's job performance jumped from 51 percent on Sept. 10, 2001, to 86 percent on Sept. 15, 2001, in a Gallup Poll. Similarly, approval for Bush's handling of the economy jumped from 54 percent on July 11, 2001, to 72 percent on Oct. 5, 2001, says Willer.The findings are consistent with social identity theory, says Willer. The theory postulates that individuals tend to identify with a specific group to the extent that they see themselves as more similar to the members of the group than to its most significant out-group.

"Once individuals identify with a group, they develop significant biases toward their group, which help them maintain high self-esteem as members of their group. From the perspective of social identity theory, threats of attacks from foreigners increase solidarity and in-group identification among Americans, including feelings of stronger solidarity with their leadership," explains Willer.

When the out-group threat includes terror, Willer says that the social-identity effects are further heightened. He notes that his findings also are consistent with terror management theory, which indicates that threats involving mortality not only increase in-group biases but also nationalism. "This research suggests that individuals may respond to reminders of their mortality, like terror warnings, by supporting their current leaders," Willer says.
-end-
Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability. Current Research in Social Psychology:
http://www.uiowa.edu/~grpproc/crisp/crisp.html

Cornell University

Related Social Psychology Articles from Brightsurf:

'Social cells' related to social behavior identified in the brain
A research team led by Professor TAKUMI Toru of Kobe University's Graduate School of Medicine (also a Senior Visiting Scientist at RIKEN Center for Biosystems Dynamics Research) have identified 'social cells' in the brain that are related to social behavior.

Psychology: The most personal device
Everyone who uses a smartphone unavoidably generates masses of digital data that are accessible to others, and these data provide clues to the user's personality.

More than one cognition: A call for change in the field of comparative psychology
In a paper published in the Journal of Intelligence, researchers argue that cognitive studies in comparative psychology often wrongly take an anthropocentric approach, resulting in an over-valuation of human-like abilities and the assumption that cognitive skills cluster in animals as they do in humans.

Social media influencers could encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines
Public health bodies should consider incentivizing social media influencers to encourage adolescents to follow social distancing guidelines, say researchers.

Social grooming factors influencing social media civility on COVID-19
A new study analyzing tweets about COVID-19 found that users with larger social networks tend to use fewer uncivil remarks when they have more positive responses from others.

Psychology research: Antivaxxers actually think differently than other people
As vaccine skepticism has become increasingly widespread, two researchers in the Texas Tech University Department of Psychological Sciences have suggested a possible explanation.

Social isolation during adolescence drives long-term disruptions in social behavior
Mount Sinai Researchers find social isolation during key developmental windows drives long term changes to activity patterns of neurons involved in initiating social approach in an animal model.

In court, far-reaching psychology tests are unquestioned
Psychological tests are important instruments used in courts to aid legal decisions that profoundly affect people's lives.

Developmental psychology -- One good turn deserves another
Five-year-olds enforce reciprocal behavior in social interactions. A study by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich psychologists shows that children come to recognize reciprocity as a norm between the ages of 3 and 5.

Psychology can help prevent deadly childhood accidents
Injuries have overtaken infectious disease as the leading cause of death for children worldwide, and psychologists have the research needed to help predict and prevent deadly childhood mishaps, according to a presentation at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

Read More: Social Psychology News and Social Psychology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.