“Angry Survivors” could be a new demographic for political strategists to consider, harboring a subtle dynamic that could influence the presidential election.
Many who lost a loved one, family, friend or even an acquaintance in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or in the Iraq War still have visceral rage or a need for revenge, and such residual emotions sway political leanings, new research suggests.
Survivors are “significantly” less likely to approve of President Bush’s performance than people without these connections, said Scott Sigmund Gartner, a political science professor from the University of California at Davis.
According to a study released Friday, the sentiment affects all comers, “repeating among Republicans as well as Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals, and across all races, ages, education levels and incomes,” the study said.
“The notion of blaming one’s leader for the death of a family or community member from a terrorist attack or war might seem odd at first,” Mr. Gartner said, “but a personal tie to a victim converts abstract, distant costs of international violence into a vivid, personal and profoundly emotional experience, one that has clear, strong and consistent political implications.”
This pattern could play a role in the presidential election, Mr. Gartner said.
“Once it was believed that people who were affected in this way by 9/11 or the war in Iraq were a small section of society. But this pattern has more impact than people thought,” he added.
The study noted that more than one-third of Americans were deeply and personally affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. About 60 percent know someone serving in Iraq, almost a third knew someone who had been killed, and 11 percent had “close personal ties” with that casualty.
Mr. Gartner’s previous research has found political fallout from these numbers. He released findings earlier this year revealing that members of Congress whose districts faced a disproportionate number of casualties in the weeks before the 2006 midterm elections were “punished at the polls.”
The potential affect on the fall election seems complicated. Does Sen. John McCain’s military service help or harm his appeal among these “survivor” voters?
“Since those who are veterans or know someone serving are more likely to know someone harmed by war, I think that a candidate’s military service likely mitigates the negative effect of a casualty,” Mr. Gartner said. “That is, those who are most likely to see military service as a positive aspect are also those most likely to know someone injured or killed. As a result, military service by a candidate linked to the war (i.e., McCain) probably decreases the negative effect.”
His new research is based on analyses of several large surveys conducted by Gallup and the Field Poll, which asked respondents about their personal ties to Sept. 11 and the Iraq War, along with their party affiliation, political outlook and support for the president.
His study was published by the American Sociological Review, an academic journal.