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Rally Around the Flag

The “rally around the flag” effect is when there’s a short-term surge in voter approval as the nation unites behind its leader during a crisis or emergency situation.

Origin of “Rally Around the Flag”

Political scientist John Mueller described the phenomenon in a 1970 landmark paper called “Presidential Popularity from Truman to Johnson.”

Mueller defined it as arising from an event with three qualities: it’s international, it involved the country as a whole and it’s specific and dramatic.

The concept stems from the natural human tendency to seek unity and cohesion when faced with external threats or significant challenges.

It invokes the symbolism of the national flag as a unifying emblem that transcends political or ideological differences. During such critical moments, the flag often becomes a symbol of collective identity, shared values, and national pride.

The “rally around the flag” effect can lead to increased support for government policies and actions, even among those who might typically oppose such measures.

It may also result in heightened patriotism, loyalty, and willingness to cooperate with government directives.

While this unifying effect can foster national cohesion and effective response to crises, critics argue that it can also be manipulated by leaders to gain support for controversial or aggressive policies.

During these rallying moments, dissenting voices might be marginalized or silenced, and complex issues may be oversimplified.

In some cases, the phenomenon has been used strategically to divert attention from domestic problems or to build support for military interventions.

One of the most prominent examples of the effect is when President George W. Bush saw a 39% increase in his approval rating — from 51% to 90 — following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Other examples include President Jimmy Carter’s approval jumping 26 percentage points following the initial seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979 and President George H.W. Bush receiving a 30 percentage point bounce following the success of Operation Dessert Storm in 1991.

More recently, the effect has been less pronounced.

President Barack Obama received a six-point bounce following the mission to kill Osama bin Laden and President Donald Trump saw a slight bump in approval after the global outbreak of the coronavirus in 2020.

Use of “Rally Around the Flag” in a sentence

  • In the wake of the national crisis, the president’s approval ratings soared as people began to “rally around the flag,” showing unified support for the country and its leadership.
  • The government’s decision to engage in military action led to a rally around the flag effect, temporarily boosting public approval as citizens united in a show of patriotism.
  • Some political analysts argue that the “rally around the flag” phenomenon can sometimes overshadow genuine policy concerns, as emotional and nationalistic feelings temporarily unite citizens behind their leaders, regardless of political differences.