As expected, Obama has received a significant poll bounce from the death of Osama Bin Laden. The number who approve of his presidency rose from 46 per cent last month to 57 per cent in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, the highest number since July 2009. Or, if you prefer, his overall approval rating rose from +1 to +20.
Obama’s 11-point bounce is slightly larger than that received by George W Bush after the capture of Saddam Hussein. His approval rating rose by 8 points and evaporated within a month. Encouragingly for Obama, the bounce was largely thanks to increased support among Republicans and independents – the voters he needs to win over to secure a second term.
Twenty-four per cent of Republicans now approve of the president, compared with just 9 per cent last month, and 52 per cent of independents now approve of him, compared to 41 per cent last month. Among Democrats, 86 per cent approve of Obama’s performance, compared with 79 per cent in April.
“Four more years” was a common refrain after the news of Bin Laden’s death. But the 2012 election isn’t sewn up by any means. As poll consistently show, the economy, not national security, is the number-one issue for voters. In that area, the prognosis isn’t so good for Obama. Just 34 per cent of voters approve of his handling of this area, down 4 per cent since last month.
History teaches us that the state of the economy is the best guide to a US president’s re-election chances. George Bush Sr was widely considered unbeatable after the Gulf war but economic woes led to his loss against Bill Clinton in 1992 (“It’s the economy, stupid,” as Clinton’s campaign declared at the time). Closer to home, Winston Churchill won the Second World War, but that didn’t stop him losing the 1945 election to Clement Attlee’s Labour.
All that said, the apparent absence of a credible Republican candidate means that the smart money is still on a second term for Obama in 2012.