The Bin Laden Bounce

Various polls have been taken since a flash poll of 24 Navy SEALs gave Osama bin Laden a 0% approval rating in Pakistan.  Various levels of “bounce” have been detected for President Obama for his role in approving the Operation Geronimo raid.

The biggest bounce comes in the Washington Post / Pew Research Center poll, which shows a 9-point increase in Obama’s overall approval rating, including +10 points among independents.  This poll gives Obama a 56% approval rating, with 38% disapproving, using “a random sample of 654 adults.”  Unsurprisingly, this poll and its big 9-point bounce are grabbing all the headlines.

CNN also did a fairly loose telephone poll of “700 adult Americans,” and came up with only a 1-point bounce.  They have the President at 52% approve, 43% disapprove.  The “no opinion” number also climbed from 3% to 5%.

Rasmussen’s presidential tracking poll, a rolling three-day average that currently includes data from the two days preceding bin Laden’s death, puts Obama at 49% approve, 50% disapprove.  This is also a 1-point improvement in approval ratings that Rasmussen describes as “remarkable stable over the past year and a half, when viewed on a month-by-month basis.”

Gallup also shows a minimal improvement in their daily presidential tracking poll, giving Obama a 1-point bump to 47% approve, 44% disapprove.  Their sample includes “telephone interviews with approximately 1,500 national adults.”

Of course, the sages and seers of public opinion offer conflicting predictions of how long any poll bounce from killing bin Laden will last.  Has the euphoria from such a victory ever endured for years?  George Bush won re-election handily, but no one would describe his campaign as an unstoppable tsunami rolling into 2004 from the capture of Saddam Hussein.

I think a moment like the demise of bin Laden or Hussein is likely to be a positive data point with many voters in the long term, but it’s a mistake to believe it could ever be the sole vehicle for a successful re-election campaign.  The people who think nailing bin Laden makes Obama invincible were going to vote for him anyway.  Others will grow weary of getting browbeaten with the “slayer of dragons” narrative, or at least receptive to strong challengers who ask what else he’s got to offer… or remind voters of what else he is responsible for.

Some commentators think Operation Geronimo makes Obama somehow immune to criticisms of weakness on foreign policy.  That’s a foolish analysis.  A year and a half from now, very few people who are not Obama True Believers will forget about Libya just because bin Laden is dead.  Real people don’t think that way.  They don’t reduce the entire topic of foreign policy, much less overall presidential leadership, to a single event.  The new talking point that getting bin Laden makes Obama a lock for re-election is just another way for a disconnected elite to call the American people stupid.