Bush Job Approval Reflects Record "Rally" Effect

by David W. Moore

Close to highest approval ever measured

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- In the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday, American approval of the way President George W. Bush is handling his job has surged to 86%, the fourth highest approval rating ever measured by Gallup in the six decades it has been asking Americans to make that evaluation. Only Presidents George H.W. Bush and Harry Truman received higher ratings -- the elder Bush twice during the Gulf War, with 89% (the highest ever) and 87% ratings, and Truman with 87% just after the Germans surrendered in World War II.

The latest Gallup poll before the terrorist attack found that 51% of Americans approved of Bush's job performance. The 35-point jump in this rating is the highest ever measured by Gallup. The second highest short-term surge, termed a "rally-around-the-flag" (or "rally") effect, was measured for the first President Bush right after the start of the Gulf War. His approval rating jumped 18 points, from 64% before the attack against Iraq was launched to 82% right afterward. For the next month, his rating stabilized, but surged to 89% at the end of the "Desert Storm" operation.

A record of all rally events producing surges in presidential approval of 10 percentage points or more is shown in the table below.

RECORD OF "RALLY" EFFECTS
GREATER THAN 10 PERCENTAGE POINTS
1941-2001


 

President

 

Event

Approval Rating Before Event

Approval Rating After Event

 

Rally Effect

 

Dura-
tion

Roosevelt

Pearl Harbor (December 1941)

72

84

+12

30 weeks


Truman

Truman Doctrine Proposed (March 1947)

48

60

+12

36+ weeks


Eisenhower

Atoms for Peace Speech (December 1953)

59

69

+10

20 weeks


Indochina Truce Signed (July 1954)

65

75

+10

6 weeks


Geneva Summit (December 1959)

67

77

+10

5 weeks


Kennedy

Cuban Missile Crisis (November 1962)

61

74

+13

31 weeks


Johnson

Halts Bombing of North Vietnam (March 1968)

36

50

+14

19 weeks


Nixon

Vietnamization Speech (November 1969)

56

67

+11

15 weeks


Vietnam Peace Agreement (January 1973)

51

67

+16

15 weeks


Ford

Mayaguez Incident (May 1975)

40

51

+11

25 weeks


Carter

Hostages Seized in Iran (November 1979)

38

51

+13

16 weeks


George H.W. Bush

Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait (August 1990)

60

74

+14

8 weeks


Desert Storm begins (January 1991)

64

82

+18

41 weeks


Clinton

Clinton Scandal (January 1998)

59

69

+10

13 weeks


Clinton Impeachment (December 1998)

63

73

+10

7 or 12 weeks


George W. Bush

Terrorist Bombing (September 2001)

51

86

+35

?

While President George W. Bush's rally effect appears to dwarf all others, the surge in approval for the senior George Bush over several months is closer to the rally effect of the current President Bush over just a few days. In the January 3-6, 1991 Gallup poll, the senior Bush's approval was at 58%, and without falling below that level, it eventually hit a Gallup record of 89% -- for a net increase of 31 percentage points. The increase in the senior Bush's approval followed a series of steps that the president took to prepare the United States for the war with Iraq, including getting Congressional authorization and a United Nations resolution in support of the effort. Each of these events saw a jump in approval, but the process was more gradual than most rally effects.

As the table shows, President Ronald Reagan experienced no rally event of at least 10 percentage points, and the two experienced by President Bill Clinton were much different from all others -- they constituted a rallying of support for a personal matter rather than a matter of state.

The rally events that came in response to threats or attacks on the United States (or its property), apart from last week's terrorist attacks in the United States, include Pearl Harbor, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the hostage crisis in the Americans embassy in Iran. Each of those events triggered a rally effect of 12 to 13 percentage points. While Pearl Harbor is most often compared with the current attack, it generated a surge in presidential approval of 12 percentage points -- but at the time, Roosevelt already enjoyed a very high rating, so the jump in approval was not as substantial. In fact, Roosevelt's 84% approval rating after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was just slightly lower than the current 86% rating for Bush.

Three of the rally events occurred in the wake of United States military action against an enemy -- two during the Gulf War, and the other when President Ford ordered the bombing of the Mayaguez.

Seven of the 16 rally events shown here were triggered by the hope of peace. They include the Truman Doctrine, intended to promote peace and prosperity in Europe; an Atoms for Peace proposal by Eisenhower, along with the Indochina Truce and later the Geneva Summit; the bombing halt by Johnson; the speech by Nixon indicating a more limited United States role in Vietnam; and, finally, the Vietnam Peace Agreement announced in January 1973.

As the table makes clear, the duration of the rally effects varies considerably from one event to another. The longest was 41 weeks, enjoyed by the first President Bush. The second longest was 36 weeks, experienced by Truman in the wake of his proposal for aid to Europe. However, calculation of the duration of rally events in the 1940s through the 1960s is somewhat unreliable, since fewer polls were conducted then.

Given the different nature of the rally events, there is no clear guideline as to how long the current rally effect for President Bush will last. There undoubtedly will be other events related to the attacks, such as the United States response -- whether diplomatic or military -- that will have an effect on the president's job approval rating. History does suggest, however, that the rally effect is not likely to be a permanent one.

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