Bin Laden's death will have little bearing on 2012

Now that Barack Obama's "Bin Laden bounce" has come and gone, the 2012 election will be won on domes

Back in May, with the 2012 election still over a year away, many were ready to cancel it and hand Obama another four years. People believed the assassination of Osama bin Laden sealed his already likely victory. There was one big problem with this conclusion: when election time rolls around and people review a politician's time in office, the negatives stand out while the positives seems to disappear.

Look at George H.W. Bush's short and sweet term.

In March of 1991, following the successful Gulf War, Bush Sr.'s approval rating reached an all time high of 87 per cent and remained relatively high for the rest of the year, according to a Roper Center Public Opinion Archive. Many of the most qualified Democratic nominees felt their efforts would be wasted against the popular president and opted out of the race, as Nate Silver pointed out in a New York Times blog. By the 1992 election, however, recession had crept in and Bush Sr.'s approval rating had fallen to 30 per cent. Bill Clinton won decisively.

The reason for this dramatic change in opinion is obvious: people forget. In the midst of economic hardship, people will forget a leader's accomplishments and the positive ways in which he has impacted the country.

What people remember is losing their job months ago and having no prospects of reversing their unemployed status. People remember inflation that makes it impossible to provide for their family. People remember the foreclosure of their house. People remember their taxes are at an all time high and getting higher every day.

This is why bin Laden's death will not determine the results of the 2012 election.

Yes, following the news that American forces had killed the wanted terrorist, Obama's approval rating increased from 47 per cent to 56 per cent in a Pew Research Center poll, a number still much lower than the response to Bush Sr.'s Operation Desert Storm.

A recent Gallup poll regarding the 2012 election, however, revealed that 39 per cent of US voters plan to vote for Obama, while 44 per cent are already willing to commit their vote to any GOP candidate - and this is still in the wake of bin Laden's death.

It seems the hype has already begun its decline. Gallup's most recent poll of Obama's job approval revealed the figure has fallen to 43 per cent. This suggests the 2012 election will not be ruled by foreign policy, and will instead be fought on domestic issues that affect voters everyday.

Granted the defeat of a sitting president is not the norm. There have been 35 elections in which an incumbent president has sought re-election, and 21 out of those 35 have been re-elected. Although victory over an incumbent president is somewhat unlikely, Obama's situation makes it no more unlikely than usual. These polling numbers paired with the 10 per cent unemployment, $4 per gallon gas prices, increasing healthcare disapproval are a sure sign that Obama is beatable.

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Are the Conservatives getting ready to learn to love the EEA?

You can see the shape of the deal that the right would accept. 

In an early morning address aimed half reassuring the markets and half at salvaging his own legacy, George Osborne set out the government’s stall.

The difficulty was that the two halves were hard to reconcile. Talk of “fixing the roof” and getting Britain’s finances in control, an established part of Treasury setpieces under Osborne, are usually merely wrong. With the prospect of further downgrades in Britain’s credit rating and thus its ability to borrow cheaply, the £1.6 trillion that Britain still owes and the country’s deficit in day-to-day spending, they acquired a fresh layer of black humour. It made for uneasy listening.

But more importantly, it offered further signs of what post-Brexit deal the Conservatives will attempt to strike. Boris Johnson, the frontrunner for the Conservative leadership, set out the deal he wants in his Telegraph column: British access to the single market, free movement of British workers within the European Union but border control for workers from the EU within Britain.

There is no chance of that deal – in fact, reading Johnson’s Telegraph column called to mind the exasperated response that Arsene Wenger, manager of Arsenal and a supporter of a Remain vote, gave upon hearing that one of his players wanted to move to Real Madrid: “It's like you wanting to marry Miss World and she doesn't want you, what can I do about it? I can try to help you, but if she does not want to marry you what can I do?”

But Osborne, who has yet to rule out a bid for the top job and confirmed his intention to serve in the post-Cameron government, hinted at the deal that seems most likely – or, at least, the most optimistic: one that keeps Britain in the single market and therefore protects Britain’s financial services and manufacturing sectors.

For the Conservatives, you can see how such a deal might not prove electorally disastrous – it would allow them to maintain the idea with its own voters that they had voted for greater “sovereignty” while maintaining their easy continental holidays, au pairs and access to the Erasmus scheme.  They might be able to secure a few votes from relieved supporters of Remain who backed the Liberal Democrats or Labour at the last election – but, in any case, you can see how a deal of that kind would be sellable to their coalition of the vote. For Johnson, further disillusionment and anger among the voters of Sunderland, Hull and so on are a price that a Tory government can happily pay – and indeed, has, during both of the Conservatives’ recent long stays in government from 1951 to 1964 and from 1979 to 1997.

It feels unlikely that it will be a price that those Labour voters who backed a Leave vote – or the ethnic and social minorities that may take the blame – can happily pay.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.