Obama's Bin Laden Polling Bounce Is Mostly Over

The president saw only a brief uptick in polling numbers after the successful Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad

Obama walking to mic bin laden - Reuters - banner.jpg

More than two weeks have passed since the successful SEAL team raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and, as expected, about half of President Obama's ratings bounce has disappeared. Gallup's tracking polls conducted through Tuesday night put his job-approval rating at 48 percent, higher than the 43-to-44 percent weekly averages he had before the commando mission but lower than the 51 percent he scored in the week immediately after. The president will enjoy some residual benefits from the raid but will probably not reap a strong and long-lasting boost in his overall approval rating.

Two pollsters from the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies offer the most convincing explanation for the modest and seemingly brief spike. In a May 12 blog post, Glen Bolger and Jim Hobart laid out five reasons. First, the event that precipitated the higher approval ratings was good news rather than bad news. Ratings bumps are larger, Bolger and Hobart note, when "the major military/national security event is bad news, with September 11 being the most prominent example. These events result in a rally-around-the-flag effect that often produces large and sustained bumps. Positive events, like the first [Reagan-]Gorbachev summit and the capture of Saddam Hussein, more often produce smaller and/or shorter bumps in presidential approval." As sad as that sounds, it's probably right. Crisis brings us together; success is soon forgotten.

Bolger and Hobart also point out that the president's base was "already home" before the bin Laden raid; Obama's job-approval rating among Democrats, especially liberals, and among African-Americans was extremely high, limiting the bounce's potential ceiling. In the three weeks of Gallup polling before the raid, the president's job rating ranged from 77 to 80 percent among Democrats; it jumped to 83 percent after bin Laden was killed. Among liberal Democrats, approval had been between 84 and 86 percent; post-raid, it ticked up to 88 percent. African-Americans gave the president approval ratings between 83 and 86 percent before the raid, with a spike to 91 percent afterward.

Bolger and Hobart's third argument, which they credit to NBC Political Director Chuck Todd, is that the public is more informed than ever before, and thus the distance between floors and ceilings in approval ratings is less than in the past.

Fourth, and as I noted here last week, "the economy continues to dominate the issue agenda." To use a cliché (not uncommon in this column), the economy, including jobs and gasoline prices, sucks up all the oxygen in the room,so there isn't much left for any other issue to consume.

Finally, Bolger and Hobart get in a little partisan dig that isn't wholly unfair. "There is no telling the impact of the White House messing up the narrative," they say. Once the news cycle of the actual bin Laden killing was over, cable news outlets and other journalists focused on broader aspects of the story, including the accuracy of the initial reports of the raid. This coverage stepped on the administration's preferred message that U.S. forces had found and killed the perpetrator of 9/11.

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Charlie Cook is editor and publisher of The Cook Political Report and a political analyst for National Journal.

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