The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath offer a rare opportunity to examine how presidential approval responds to a sudden and severe national security crisis. I utilize the 2000–2002 National Election Studies panel to track change in public attitudes toward George W. Bush over the first two years of his presidency. An advantage of using panel data is that it allows me to go beyond aggregate change in presidential approval to examine how change is related to defense policy predispositions and prior political awareness. I find important differences. Over these two years, those high in political awareness experience priming of their defense predispositions but very little rally effect. In contrast, those low in political awareness experience a rally in support for Bush but very little priming. These results reaffirm that those with different levels of political awareness respond to dramatic messages in distinct ways.

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