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Two leaders, two wars: A psychological analysis of fear and anger content in political rhetoric about terrorism

De Castella, K. and McGarty, C. (2011) Two leaders, two wars: A psychological analysis of fear and anger content in political rhetoric about terrorism. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 11 (1). pp. 180-200.

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This article examines fear and anger content in the political rhetoric of former U.S. President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the period 2001-2003. A total of 49 terrorism-related speeches were coded for content that could plausibly elicit fear or anger in listeners. Although anger and fear inductions were present in the vast majority of coded speeches, the percentage of speeches containing emotional content varied widely over time and between speakers, with the highest levels present in the lead-up to the War in Iraq. The content of Bush's communication was also considered alongside polling data measuring presidential approval and fear of falling victim to a terrorist attack. Results indicate that fear content in political rhetoric was not associated with significant changes in public fear of terrorism. However, the presence of emotional content did coincide with declining presidential approval. This finding is consistent with claims that emotional appeals are selectively deployed at times of declining public support for governments and their counter-terrorism policies. However, the lack of relationship between fear content and fear levels also raises questions about the purpose and effectiveness of alleged fear appeals.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Inc.
Copyright: © 2011 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
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