Grandstand. Usually, the issues of foreign policy and international relations are far from the concerns of ordinary citizens, much more confronted with the innumerable problems of their daily lives. Thus, in wave 5 of the electoral survey (Ipsos-Sopra Steria in partnership with the Sciences Po Political Research Center and the Jean Jaurès Foundation for Le Monde, published on February 11) preceding the Russian invasion [le 24 février], purchasing power was considered by more than one out of two French people as the priority issue, far ahead of all other issues, and in particular international issues. But, when a serious international crisis arises, when a major military conflict breaks out, or when a criminal terrorist attack is perpetrated, international news sweeps away the grievances of the people and trades them for the power play States. In such a situation, political science has demonstrated, for almost fifty years, a rallying round the flag effect of national public opinion which translates into increased support for power in square.
Rally under the flag
What is the nature of this phenomenon? Three mechanisms, which are not mutually exclusive, help to explain it. First, when an existential threat becomes more palpable, citizens tend to turn to political actors who can protect them from the risks posed by such an upheaval of the status quo. Secondly, populations can also follow a patriotic reflex by lining up behind the government or the president who, more than anyone else, embodies national unity. Third, the general consensus that prevails within the political elites concerning the conflict, and the absence of major divergences between these elites, reported in the media, can fuel and sustain this rallying of voters from all backgrounds to the executive power.
Recent history is full of these rallies under the flag in periods of major crises. The reactions of American public opinion to certain major international crises involving the United States provide canonical examples of this. The American president thus saw his popularity soar after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 or, ten years earlier, with operation “Desert Storm” in 1991, during the military engagement in Iraq, in the middle of the war of Gulf. In general, the magnitude and longevity of these rallying effects vary, ranging from huge (e.g., a 35 percentage point increase in presidential approval after 9/11) to long-lasting (more than a year), to more modest and ephemeral effects that only last a few weeks or a few months at most (for example, after the waves of attacks under the Hollande five-year term).
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