Political Science ETDs


John Todsen

Publication Date



The rally around the flag effect describes the presidents to increase in job approval during and immediately after an international crisis. This project has been built as an attempt to explain why that effect occurs. The literature on the presidency and public opinion point at two determinants for the rally effect: the acceptance of the President as the symbolic leader of the nation and the center of action in the government, and opinion leadership, especially that given by the independent mass media. By examining the development of the rally effect, I tested the relative importance of these two factors. To test these factors, I used a mixed methods approach to analyze the existence of rally effects in each of three cases. The quantitative portion included development of a proxy measure for public approval through the content analysis of newspapers before, during and after potential rally events. Applying a bivariate analysis to this measure, I could show when there were changes in the patterns of mentions of and attitudes towards the President, the Congress, and public opinion. I added to this analysis a qualitative narrative, adding depth to the analysis and showing where the determinants were and why the numbers were telling the story that they did. I selected three potential historical cases of rallies. The first, focused on the Thornton Affair and the Mexican-American War, was designed to be a least-likely case, with neither factor present. The third event, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram and the First World War, was a most-likely case, with both present. The second case, the sinking of the battleship USS Maine and the Spanish-American War, involved one of the determinants, the independent media, being present, with the other, the symbolic presidency, not yet fully developed. My results showed no rally in the first case and a modern rally in the third. In the second case I found a lagged increase in approval, linked with the policy change rather than with the rally event itself. This supports the idea that it is indeed the symbolic presidency that drives people to rally around the flag.

Degree Name

Political Science

Level of Degree


Department Name

Political Science

First Committee Member (Chair)

Peceny, Mark

Second Committee Member

Krebs, Timothy

Third Committee Member

Baker, Nancy




Presidents--United States--Public opinion--Case studies, Mass media--United States--Influence--Case studies, Mass media and world politics--Case studies

Document Type