In the Sept. 5 Outlook section, the Unconventional Wisdom column incorrectly stated that the Constitution requires that the president be born in the United States. The Constitution says: "No Person except a natural born Citizen" can become president. Someone born outside the country of parents who are U.S. citizens also would be considered a natural-born citizen. (Published 9/13/04)
Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, it has been an article of faith that the terrorism issue works to the huge political benefit of President Bush and to the disadvantage of the Democrats. As a consequence, some Democratic stalwarts privately wonder whether administration officials might spring a late October surprise in the form of an orange alert in order to help President Bush win reelection.
Such cynicism! But a warning to GOP partisans who want to play politics with the terrorism warning system: It likely will backfire. Raising the threat level to orange will not help Bush and, if anything, is more likely to benefit Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, say political scientists Darren W. Davis and Brian D. Silver of Michigan State University.
"A sense of threat does matter, and it works against Bush," they argue in a paper they are presenting this weekend at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago.
They base their assertions on two national surveys and 11 state polls conducted in Michigan since 9/11. Each of these surveys took weeks to complete, allowing researchers to test the impact, if any, of five orange alerts issued by the federal government during the survey periods, and to assess the impact of the terrorism issue on the 2004 presidential campaign.
Their work turned up some good news for terrorism czar Tom Ridge and his staff. The much-maligned color-coded alert system appears to be working. Alerts "significantly increase the level of public concern about terrorism within six days of the [warning]. . . . The results do suggest that the warnings do achieve the intended effect of increasing public alertness to the possibility of terrorist attack," they wrote.
Moreover, the last two terrorism alerts generated even more concern than earlier ones, suggesting that "the public has not become jaded because the government is perceived as having 'cried wolf' on earlier occasions."
But their research flashes an orange warning signal to the Bush reelection team. "Terror alerts have no effect on approval of Bush, though they do raise people's concern about terrorism," they found.
In fact, they claim that concern about terrorism may have subtly shifted from being a Bush advantage to a Bush liability. Immediately after 9/11, overwhelming numbers of those most worried about another terrorist attack were more likely to approve of the job that Bush was doing as president. Today, that has flipped: In the latest Michigan statewide survey, completed in June, 64 percent of those who were "not at all concerned" about terrorism approved of the job Bush was doing as president. But among those who were "very concerned" about the possibility of another terrorist attack, only 26 percent thought the president was doing a good job -- a switch in sentiment that Silver said he and Davis found in other recent state and national polls.
Other research suggests that references to 9/11 still work to Bush's advantage. Silver said a study by a group of University of Arizona researchers found that showing test subjects photos of scenes from 9/11 increased support for Bush and diminished support for Kerry among test subjects.
But that's about then. When the subject turns to current or future terrorist threats, Bush likely is in trouble, Silver said.
"If I were Bush, I would be very careful not to bring this into the present tense," Silver said. Instead, he should "focus on the past, at least back to 2001 and keep talking about the two new democracies that were in the Olympic games."
One reason fear of terrorism has gone from being good for Bush to bad is that "people have become more likely to see the persistence of the threat as the product of the administration," a negative. Add to that the critical findings of the 9/11 commission and the bloody aftermath of the war in Iraq, and the perception may be growing that we are less, not more, safe than we were before Sept. 11, 2001.
As for Kerry, he shouldn't be shy about talking about the current terrorist threats. "Bring it on," should be his war cry when it comes to the war on terrorism, Silver said.
When you're in a bar, be careful what you say to the guy with one ear larger than the other, say researchers at Ohio State University who found that people with different-size ears or other body parts are more aggressive and easier to anger than other people.
The more that paired body parts were out of symmetry -- if one ear or foot was bigger than the other, for example -- the more likely it was that a person would show signs of aggression when provoked, said Zeynep Benderlioglu, a post-doctoral researcher at Ohio State University and co-author of the study reported in a recent issue of the American Journal of Human Biology.
There's even a plausible explanation for the effect, Benderlioglu and his colleagues claimed. Stressors during pregnancy such as poor health or alcohol and tobacco use may affect the fetus in a variety of ways, including causing the development of asymmetric body parts and emotional problems in later life.
Benderlioglu and his colleagues based their findings on a study of 100 college students. Researchers measured the relative size of finger length, palm height, wrist diameter, elbow width, ear height and width, foot breadth and ankle circumference. They added all the differences in these pairs to compute an "asymmetry" score for each participant.
The students were told they were going to participate in a study of their skills of persuasion. They were given a list of phone numbers to call in order to raise funds for a fictitious charity. But they were actually calling people involved in the study, who had been instructed how to respond to the study participants.
Some of the people called were friendly and cooperative, while others were confrontational and rude. The researchers had rigged the phones so that they could measure how hard the participants slammed the receiver down after the call to measure "reactive aggression."
Results showed that the more asymmetry the participants showed in their body parts, the more force they used when hanging up the phone after an irritating conversation.
Say, is it too early to start a Schwarzenegger for President in 2008 committee?
Probably yes, especially since the Constitution requires that the president be born in the United States. But the tanned muscleman from Austria by way of California has clearly emerged as a force in Republican national politics. He's only slightly less popular nationally than President Bush and far more likable than that sourpuss Vice President Cheney, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll of 945 self-described registered voters.
Half of all voters have a favorable view of Bush, while nearly as many -- 46 percent -- give Gov. Schwarzenegger the thumbs up. But far more voters have an unfavorable view of Bush (40 percent) than of Schwarzenegger
(29 percent), while a quarter of all voters don't know enough about Arnold to say. Cheney, on the other hand, is viewed negatively by more voters (45 percent) than positively (41 percent). Maybe it's time for Republicans to get behind Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch's idea for amending the Constitution to allow naturalized citizens to run for president.
Of course there was one person at last week's GOP convention whom everybody loves: Laura Bush, who is viewed favorably by two-thirds of all voters, including a big majority of independents and Republicans and nearly half of all Democrats.
So Arnold and Laura in '08 . . . or should it be the other way around?