|Professor and student look at media reporting in times of crisis
Research team finds surprising results
RELEASED: Sept. 23, 2004
DANVILLE, KYDetermining why a U.S. President is popular might be harder than we think.
In the months that followed 9/11, President George W. Bush's approval rating soared and remained high for many months. This past summer, Bill Garriott, professor of government at Centre, and Michael Douglas, a junior double major in Spanish and government from Hustonville, Ky., decided to examine the relationship between the public opinion of the president and the media.
Garriott and Douglas looked at the "rally effect" which is when the president's approval rating goes up in times of crisis. The assumption is that in times of national crisis people gravitate toward the president because he is the most visible person in government.
"After 9/11, I wondered what kind of effect this would have on the president's approval ratings," Garriott says. "His approval ratings stayed high and gradually dropped over a long period of time."
Garriott and Douglas wanted to explain the strength and duration of this spike to see if it had anything to do with the media. They looked at publications designed for a mass audience with an identifiable political view. They read The Nation, New Republic, Washington Monthly, Commentary and the National Review.
The professor and student assumed that they would find the more conservative publications in support of Bush before and even more supportive after 9/11 and the more liberal ones would be less supportive of him before the attacks but more in favor afterward.
Garriott and Douglas started reading the different publications in search of mentions of George W. Bush. They attempted to measure how supportive the articles were of the president and how this measured over time.
They read nearly 2,000 articles dating from July 2000 through December 2001.
The journals with a clear political slant generally remained more consistent in their views of the president than more non-partisan media such as Time magazine, which criticized the president before 9/11 but supported him after the attacks. Liberal publications decreased criticism somewhat after 9/11, especially personal and foreign-policy attacks, while some conservative journals continued to disagree with the president on certain policies after 9/11.
The project proved to be more complex and interesting than they had originally anticipated. Garriott plans to continue their research.
"I found the research to be a very rewarding experience," Douglas says. "The role of media in American politics is among my great interests, and when Dr. Garriott proposed the project I was grateful for an opportunity to gain experience in content analysis, research design and several political concepts that I previously knew little about. I feel that our summer produced interesting findings, and I hope we have an opportunity to elaborate and investigate further."
"Michael did a wonderful job last summer," Garriott says. "I included him in every stage of the research and we both read about the rally effect and read and analyzed the magazines. He did much of the analysis and made a number of suggestions that were incorporated in the project."
Centre offers a range opportunities for students to participate in collaborative research with faculty members during the academic year and the summer.
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