Fear Appeals in Political Rhetoric about Terrorism: An Analysis of Speeches by Australian Prime Minister Howard



This paper explores fear-arousing content in Australian former Prime Minister John Howard's political rhetoric about terrorism. We coded 27 speeches delivered between September 2001 and November 2007 for the presence of statements promoting fear-consistent appraisals (Smith & Lazarus, 1993). Fear-arousing content was present in 24 of these speeches, but the amount of fear-arousing content varied markedly. In particular, rhetoric that raised doubts about the capacity of Australia and its allies to cope with terrorism was most strongly present in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq and at times of declining support for government policies. Textual analysis of three key speeches confirmed a marked difference between Howard's speech given immediately after the attacks on September 11, 2001, and the second and third speeches presented prior to and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. These findings indicate that Howard has not consistently employed fear-inducing rhetoric in his speeches about terrorism, but that particular speeches appear to take this form, raising the possibility that fear-arousing rhetoric may have been selectively deployed to support his political purposes at those times.