Study: Bush Raises the Terrorism Fear Factor…And His Poll Numbers Jump Too

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A new study by political scientists at Columbia University finds that three things follow from presidential pronouncements on terrorism: the media repeat the president’s remarks; public fear of terrorism increases; and the president’s poll numbers rise.

The study found that since 9/11 increases in terror alerts always made the top of the news on the three major networks while decreases got far less play. Reports the San Francisco Chronicle:

The official with the greatest ability to shift opinion on terrorism, the researchers found, is Bush, whose statements in the media about terrorism correlated highly with increases in the public’s perception of terrorism as a major national problem — and with increases in his approval ratings.

At the beginning of July 2002, for example, approval of the president’s handling of terrorism was around 79 percent. After television coverage of one statement by Bush and seven public statements by administration officials about the terrorist threat, the president’s rating rose to 83 percent.

In June 2004, approval for the president’s handling of terrorism had fallen to 50 percent. One month later, after an increase in television coverage of Bush’s comments on terrorism, that number had risen to 57 percent.

As I mentioned earlier, our handy interactive timeline can be a great tool for putting the day’s news in context. So, for example, if you click on the “Terror Alert” link you get a list of all the times between 9/11 and March, 2003 when the government scared the bejesus out of us with dark warnings of impending attacks.

Now, of course…

The Columbia study does not conclude the White House intentionally used terror alerts to influence the president’s popularity.

But, ahem, …

…[I]t is unlikely the White House is ignorant of the effect, said Nacos, who added that former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge has complained publicly that he was sometimes pushed to raise the threat level on the basis of flimsy intelligence.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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