Terror Alerts Quantified At Last

TERROR ALERTS QUANTIFIED AT LAST….This falls into the category of stuff we already knew, but it’s nice to have rigorous confirmation anyway:

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.

….”Results showed that terror warnings increased presidential approval ratings consistently,” says [researcher Robb] 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.”

The full report is here, and the basic result is simple: a terror warning leads to an average increase in the president’s approval rating of 2.75% and the increase lasts for about a week ? possibly two weeks at the outside. The results are statistically significant at a very high level and (assuming I read the report correctly) Willer properly controlled for major events like 9/11 and the capture of Saddam Hussein.

That’s good to know, isn’t it? Until now, we might have lazily guessed that the White House was going to stage some kind of terror alert for, oh, mid-October or so. But with this new data in hand, I think we can confidently expect it on about October 27 instead. After all, the effect only lasts a week.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation