Terror Alerts in a time of elections

There are October surprises (“some unforeseen or otherwise dramatic development that prompts millions of voters to rethink their assumptions and allegiances“) and there are terror alerts.

During the Bush Administration, initially because of nationwide fears after 9/11, terror alerts began with corresponding increases in “chatter” amongst the terrorist networks, as intercepted by our intelligence agencies. Because it often seemed that the alerts increased in the month just before federal elections, skeptics questioned whether the terror alerts were legitimate, or whether they were manufactured to create a “rally around the chief” effect, bumping the President’s party a few percentage points.

Over at the fantastically fascinating blog Information is Beautiful, they’ve taken the data available from Google to examine this hypothesis, noting that the effect does not seem to have been limited to President Bush.  Indeed, it appears that we see it happening right now. Below, the graph shows how the key words “terror alert” and “election time” tracked on Google.  The key words increased as the events approached or occurred. As they explain “It tracks the intensity of keywords over time- an interesting barometer of the group mind.”

Ironically, the complaints–that the President is raising the threat level for political gain–are coming from Pakistan, asserting that intelligence cited by the Americans, and followed by the UK and France, is unspecific.

“I will not deny the fact that there may be internal political dynamics, including the forthcoming midterm American elections. If the Americans have definite information about terrorists and al-Qaida people, we should be provided [with] that and we could go after them ourselves,” Hasan, [a veteran diplomat who is close to Pakistan’s president], said.

What do you think? Are increased threats at this time probable? Are the threats spurious?

I personally don’t see how the increased threat level can help President Obama, or his party, nor do I think the evidence suggests that he is trying to levy a threat level to helping him politically.  If he was, I think we would see more talk about the treat of terrorist attacks, not the usual campaign fare that Democrats and Republicans are spewing right now. So while I see in the graph a correlation, I don’t think that it is convincing that there is causation.

If it is intended as a political bump to the President’s party, and right now the Democrats could use a bump, it’s getting lost in all the noise.

For more graphs, check out Google Insight, here.

(Thx to Information is Beautiful)

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