What is the "rally 'round the flag effect?"
In the past, international crises have led to bursts of popular support for U.S. presidents. Here are four examples of the “rally ‘round the flag effect.”
Wag the Dog
The rally 'round the flag effect is a concept used in political science and international relations to explain increased short-run popular support of the President of the United States during periods of international crisis or war. The American public sees the President as the embodiment of national unity. The second, "The Opinion Leadership School" believes that the rally emerges from a lack of criticism from members of the opposition party, most often in the United States Congress. If opposition party members appear to support the president, the media has no conflict to report, thus it appears to the public that all is well with the performance of the president.
How low could they go?
It is also believed that the lower the presidential approval rating before the crisis, the larger the increase will be in terms of percentage points because it leaves the president more room for improvement. For example, Franklin Roosevelt only had a 12% increase in approval from 72% to 84% following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, whereas George W. Bush had a 39% increase from 51% to 90% following the September 11 attacks. The Cuban Missile Crisis: According to Gallup polls, President John F. Kennedy's approval rating in early October 1962 was at 61%. By November, after the crisis had passed, Kennedy's approval rose to 74%. The spike in approval peaked in December 1962 at 76%. Kennedy's approval rating slowly decreased again until it reached the pre-crisis level of 61% in June 1963.
There are fears that a president will misuse the rally 'round the flag effect. These fears come from the "diversionary theory of war" in which the President creates an international crisis in order to distract from domestic affairs and to increase their approval ratings through a rally 'round the flag effect. The fear associated with this theory is that a President can create international crisis to avoid dealing with serious domestic issues or to increase their approval rating when it begins to drop.