Many studies have reported that US presidents often become more popular at the onset of wars and other security crises. Research on this “rally-round-the-flag” phenomenon has focused on either rational calculation of success, chances of military actions, popular perceptions of security threats, or the role of opinion leaders. This paper proposes a new approach: I argue that challenges to the symbolic status of the nation vis-à-vis other nations drive rally periods. This study examines the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon from a comparative historical perspective, using a new database of war events and security crises from 1950–2006. The analysis reveals that two types of status challenges result in nationalist rally reactions: first, the public has rallied behind presidents when wars and security crises were viewed as an opportunity for the United States to reclaim its previously damaged national honor; and second, rallies have emerged when the president claimed the mantle of “leader of the free world” in an internationally authorized coalition attack on a foreign country.


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pp. 305-338
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