Ronald Regan

Politics and Terrorism: How Does It Affect Elections?

After the weekend of many terrible tragedies throughout the country, citizens have turned to the people we have elected in our moments of crisis. But what exactly do we look for in these public figures in our times of need?

One of the most iconic speeches to be delivered in a time of crisis was in Jan. 28, 1986, when President Ronald Regan addressed the nation of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

It was the day President Regan was to prepare for his State of the Union address, but instead delivered a speech that would be one of the highlights of his career.  “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”

He honored the lives that were lost and made the country feel united. Former House of Representatives Tip O’Niell wrote in his book, “it was a trying day for all Americans and Ronald Reagan spoke to our highest ideals.”

The nation looks for comfort in the people they vote to put in office and that is what they should be getting.  Once a tragedy takes place, people expect that politicians know the details of the occurrence and do what they can for everyone to be safe. 

According to The Hill, “Civilans need to know if they are safe, if this is or is not an attack, and what they should do to stay out of harms way.”

With the election only 50 days away, how a politician, or a candidate, reacts to an attack or a tragedy can effect how the public perceives them.


In the book, Democracy at Risk: How Terrorist Threats Affect the Public, authors Jennifer Merolla and Elizabeth Zechmeister realized in their experiments that people have a decline in social trust after a terrorist attack, which inclines them to find answers in a more authoritative figure.

Zechmeister explains, “threatened individuals not only seek out strong leadership but they come to perceive otherwise ordinary leaders as extraordinary.”

The research further explained why these results to how people respond to terrorist threats should be concerning. Even if the political ideals of someone shift temporarily, this could affect long term legislation.

Terrorism has played a very valuable part in pervious elections. According to James Campbell, in Why Bush Won the Presidential Election of 2004, the horrible events of 9/11 may have helped President Bush stay in office for one more term. The Iraq War divided voters, but many of them felt as they could trust President Bush according to Campbell.

On Sept. 17, after being briefed by staffed, Clinton’s first response to the attacks was, “I have been briefed about the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the attack in Minnesota. Obviously we need to do everything we can to support our first responders, also to pray for the victims. We have to let this investigation unfold. We have been in touch with various officials, including the mayor’s office in New York, to learn what they are discovering as they conduct this investigation. And I will have more to say about it when we have some facts.”

On the same day, Trump’s first reaction to the attacks was, “Just before I got off the plane, a bomb went off in New York and nobody knows exactly what’s going on,” before officials had determined the cause of the explosion, within 30 minutes of the initial reports of an explosion in New York.

Natorye Miller, a senior communication major, said, “When it comes to terror attacks or threats, I think it is very important for a politician to make us feel safe. From local to national, I really count on them to make sure that my family and friends are safe. And that is something that is important to look at when electing someone into office.”

Polling from both ABC News and The Washington Post have shown that Clinton’s advatage over Trump on terrorism issues jumped in the aftermath of the June attack at Pluse gay bar in Orlando, because of Trump’s lack of empathy.

Our hearts go out to the 40 people injured in the recent attacks this weekend.