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When terror bell rings, George Bush smiles

Times of India | October 8 2004

WASHINGTON: An article published in the Current Research in Social Psychology journal has revealed that when the US government issues a terrorist warning, presidential approval ratings jump by leap and bounds.

Robb Willer, the assistant director of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell, tracked 26 instances of federal agency report that showed an increased threat of terrorist activity in the United States between February 2001 and May 2004.

Simultaneously he also tracked the 131 Gallup Polls in the same period, and found presidential approval ratings quite positive in relation to the warnings on terror.

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

Willer pointed to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as an example of the tendency. After 9/11, approval of Bush's job performance jumped from 51 per cent on Sept 10, 2001, to 86 per cent on Sept 15, 2001, in a Gallup Poll. Similarly, approval for Bush's handling of the economy jumped from 54 per cent on July 11, 2001, to 72 per cent on Oct 5, 2001.

Willer said that the findings are consistent with social identity theory, which 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," explained Willer.

"This research suggests that individuals may respond to reminders of their mortality, like terror warnings, by supporting their current leaders," he concluded.

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