Monday, May 2, 2011

Bin Laden's Death - What Kind of Bump for Obama?

Osama...Dead Man

 We can all rejoice this morning, because that bastard, Bin Laden, is dead. All of us in the New York area lost people we knew and the wound is still fresh. Congratulations to all who had anything to do with this operation, especially the Navy SEALs who put their lives on the line. I wish I could buy dinner for whoever made the kill shot and sent that stone-age coward off to his virgins.

(pause...composing myself...)

That Obama will reap political benefit from this is a given. That's the way it works, and he did give the order. The question is, how much, and how long will it last?

There is an interesting precedent, which is the Camp David Peace Accords, orchestrated by Jimmy Carter in 1978. I went back and looked at the numbers and Carter's approval rating was, at the time, quite near Obama's today: 42% vs. 46%. What ensued was a rapid 10-point bump. I'd guess we'll see about the same for Obama, which will put him well comfortably above the critical 50% level thought to be necessary to secure re-election.

But will it last? Carter's didn't. Four months later, he was back to where he was and then even lower. We can also remember that Bush 41's incredible 90% rating on the heals of his Gulf War triumph fell all the way to 30% in sixteen months. Bush 43 also hit 90% after 9-11 but fell steadily to 58% over a similar 16 months (and would later fall to 26%).

The election of 2008 was highly unusual in that its primary focus was foreign policy. (Yes, the market fell out of bed just before the election, but the lingering wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the public's primary focus over the long election season.) Most elections are about the economy, and, barring something extraordinary like another 9-11, 2012 will be no different. Obama will live or die based on the unemployment number. And given that his economic policies - particularly his health and environmental initiatives - are massive job killers, I believe his prospects remain tenuous. (In this, I would part company with the prediction futures market which has his re-election odds at 60%.)

Obama should enjoy his moment, because history suggests he'll only be able to enjoy it for a few months.

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