Are terror alerts a politically-motivated ploy to raise the president’s approval rating? That’s a question many Democrats are asking these days.
Most of Bush’s opponents don’t want to discuss what they’d like to see the current administration to do about the threat of terror if it can’t be allowed to raise a terror alert when it finds information that suggests a possible target or timeframe.
So far, no one has been willing to go on record saying that there is no threat of terror. No one has been willing to go on record saying that terrorists aren’t plotting new ways to infiltrate the United States. And while many seem to have myriad problems with the Bush administration’s color coding, few seem to have a clearly better alternative.
The same site that tabulates projected Electoral Votes which I mentioned in my last essay provides a link to a plot of President Bush’s approval ratings. Terror alerts and the other notable events have been plotted along with ratings gathered over Bush’s presidency.
It is suggested that an incumbent president’s approval rating is the best predictor of his re-election; presidents with an approval rating below the 50% mark generally do not get re-elected. At this writing, Bush’s median approval rating appears to be around the 47% mark.
But the reason for producing this graph is two-fold: not only does its author hope to offer these numbers as proof that Bush will not get a second term, he also hopes to show that Bush is strategically using terror alerts to boost his sagging approval rating.
Do the facts support his claim? Let’s take a look.
First, he suggests that every time there is a “dip” in Bush’s approval rating, a terror alert is announced. This isn’t entirely accurate. We don’t see sudden drops before terror alerts are raised that are steeper than general decline that is already occurring. It’s unquestionable that Bush’s approval rating has been declining for some time. But the rate of decline has been fairly steady if you remove the terror alerts from the picture. The low point shown before each rise is only a low point because the number then goes back up a bit. Otherwise, it would pretty much be a straight line headed in the same downward direction. There are no real potholes appearing here.
Second, he suggests that the terror alerts always raise Bush’s approval rating, justifying this continuing tactic. It’s not true. Many of the terror alerts do precede a brief spike in the numbers, but not all of them do. Some seem to have no effect at all. Also, there are occasional spikes that occur in the absence of an immediate terror alert, which means that they cannot be the sole cause of improved ratings for the president. Therefore, you cannot even assume that the terror alerts that do precede a riseare the only possible reason for that the rise.
Third, he suggests that as we approach the election, the number and frequency of terror alerts keeps growing. It is not entirely impossible to imagine that our election could be a time at which terrorists wish to strike in the hopes of altering the outcome. Also, this fails to consider the fact that as we dig deeper into the terror threat, it is inevitable that we will find more details about possible plans. The same thing occurs in medicine when a new test is perfected to successfully diagnose illness: more cases are generally found. This doesn’t mean that the number of cases are on the rise or that doctors are trying to scare the general public; it simply means that they have new tools that enable them to diagnose the problem more efficiently.
Fourth, the writer seems to miss one very obvious fact: despite the spikes that have occurred in Bush’s approval rating, none seems to be permanent. If, as he is trying so hard to prove, the Bush administration is issuing terror alerts to “boost” his numbers, it should be clear by now that the spikes are short-lived and that when an alert is issued without either a major arrest or a terrorist attack occurring, the numbers end up dropping lower than they were before the alert is issued. Does this sound like a strategy any team would use for long?
Fifth, he then adds:
“…for the record, we are not claiming that all these alerts are politically motivated. We are sure a considerable amount of these alerts were legit and caused by real and immediate information of potential threats. What is important to note is that many of these “immediate” terror alerts were later on discredited (in some cases they used old data, in other cases the announcements were less immediate and less urgent that we were lead to believe, as the press reported.) Those are the cases that could be interpreted as politically motivated, especially when they seemed to coincide with political news and events unfavorable to the administration.”
The conditional language, (“not all,” “could be interpreted,” “seemed to coincide”), means, in translation, that he could be completely off base. The facts the writer provides do not support the bulk of his case, least of all the notion that Bush is using terror alerts to “improve” his approval rating.
It comes down to this: you have to decide for yourself how seriously you want to take the threat when a new alert is issued. If you choose to assume that a new threat must be bogus because you feel Bush is a bogus president, so be it. But if an alert is issued and an attack occurs, you cannot then blame the government for not doing its part to warn you.
Many people seem so annoyed by even the mention of a terror alert these days that I am beginning to think they would like for this country to completely suspend all homeland security activities until Inauguration Day in January. That way, the possibility of the alert system being used as a political ploy would be impossible.
Of course, this election year, we are learning that virtually anything can be used as a political ploy…even a trio of Purple Hearts!