Could a major terrorist attack actually propel Donald Trump to the presidency?
Well, we’re in the thick of it. As we count down the days left till November 8th – by our count it’s 49 – we’ll be giving a daily thought on the state of the 2016 elections. If you want us to talk about a certain topic or issue for this feature, leave it in the comments section at this post or email it to us at contact[AT]thepostturtle.com, with “50 Days, 50 Thoughts” as the title. In this installment, we’ll be talking about terrorist attacks and if they actually move poll numbers for certain candidates during an election year. [Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s a grotesque question and it’s way too early in the morning for this, but you guys specifically asked. So here it is.]
Back in March, Blake Hounshell – Editorial Director at Politico – tweeted this out.
America may be one major terrorist attack away from Donald Trump as president.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) March 22, 2016
It’s an idea that’s gotten traction in recent days due to a series of attempted/actual bombings this weekend in the New York/New Jersey area. Conventional wisdom points to Donald Trump’s poll numbers rising when there is news of a terrorist attack due to his stances on immigration and tough-talk on terrorist threats. But in actuality, that might not be the case.
Generally speaking, terrorist attacks tend to drive more voters to the more “hawkish” presidential candidate and as this Pew Report shows, that usually means voters getting behind the Republican candidate. Which if you really think about it, makes total sense. In recent decades the GOP has been the party to push for more defense spending and buffing up the US military. So in times of unrest, the polls’ kneejerk reaction would be to support a candidate that makes national security a major talking point.
The perfect example of this was the approval rating of then President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Before the 9/11 attacks, President Bush’s approval ratings were hovering around 50%. After the attacks however they shot up to 86%, even reaching as high as 90% some time later! President Bush’s tough response to the 9/11 attacks, with the “War on Terror” initiative, gave him that bump in approval.
So in a usual election year, since Trump is the Republican nominee, that would mean he potentially could get a major polling bump due to a terrorist attack. But as we said before, the 2016 election cycle has been anything but usual.
While Trump does use more aggressive rhetoric when it comes to talking about terrorism and have more extreme policies to deal with the problem (ie banning all Muslims from entering the country for a specific time, even though that policy will do nothing to curb terrorism), he also has no experience to back any of this up. Because in a debate, if Trump were to outline what he would do in terms of national security, Hillary Clinton could just as easily counter with this famous image of her being in the Situation Room as US armed forces were taking out Osama Bin Laden.
Not only does Clinton have international experience as Secretary of State, but more importantly – or the more popular talking point in this argument of national security that voters would respond to – she was one of the decision makers that lead to the operation of taking out Bin Laden. That’s a substantial card to play as a presidential candidate!
Yet the question of national security after a terrorist attack comes down to who the public feels would respond to it the best. Which in this specific presidential contest, looks to be a crapshoot. In a normal year, that bump would go to the Republican candidate, but in a year when the Democratic candidate is pretty hawkish herself; voters could be looking at the dichotomy of national security very differently.
(Photo Credit: realdonaldtrump Instagram, Wikipedia)