It's the Economy, Stupid
Why has President Obama's post-Bin Laden bounce been so limited, especially among Independents? Douglas Schoen, analyzing the new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll, finds an answer in Thursday's jobless jump.
Despite the fact that the president traveled to ground zero Thursday to celebrate the successful elimination of Osama bin Laden, the most significant political development that day was not this highly publicized visit to New York City, but rather the release of the new jobless numbers showing that the number of newly unemployed had jumped to 474,000—underscoring the real and fundamental political problem he faces.
That problem is the economy and his management of it, which is the top issue facing the country and on which he draws decidedly negative ratings, notwithstanding the goodwill he has generated with the successful raid in Abbottabad.
President Obama received no immediate approval bump from the bin Laden kill, according to the new Newsweek/Daily Beast poll, though the subsequent days may have produced a smallish increase. The Gallup poll released on Thursday shows a six-point increase in Obama's job approval, and the Real Clear Politics average shows a four-point bounce in Obama's job approval rating.
And a detailed examination of the Newsweek/Daily Beast numbers show that while Americans accord recognition for what Obama accomplished with the raid, and believe he has been a strong leader, this opportunity to provide leadership is not a validation of his presidency in and of itself.
This is specifically true among the group most important to him: Independents, 66 percent say the economy is headed in the wrong direction, and two-thirds say that the country is on the wrong track. Over half (52 percent) say Obama is a strong leader overall, but only 32 percent of Independents say that President Obama deserves re-election, while half say it is time to replace him with someone else. And 78 percent of Independents say that news that U.S. forces killed bin Laden has had no impact on their opinion of the president, while only 19 percent say it has made them more favorable.
The president has the opportunity to take advantage of the enormous amount of goodwill that has been generated by this event to fill the void that has been left by the Republicans.
Those Independent numbers are worse than American perception overall. Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy by 56 percent to 39 percent, and they say the country is on the wrong track rather than heading in the right direction, 59 percent to 27 percent, according to our poll.
To be sure, the president garners justifiably high ratings for leadership generally and specifically on the war on terror, as 55 percent say Obama is a strong leader overall and over 60 percent see him as a leader in the War on Terror. But implications of this for the 2012 election are clear. The fact that the president got just a modest bounce in his job approval and saw no fundamental change in his overall ratings, even while six in 10 say they are more likely to vote for him because of bin Laden's killing, indicates the profound disquiet American voters feel with current economic circumstances.
The president must now use the leadership he demonstrated in taking down bin Laden to take on fiscal issues and the economy, where the opportunity to show leadership is greatest and most important. And there is no group that is more important to show this leadership to than those Independents.
The Newsweek/Daily Beast poll shows that the Republicans are largely discredited. Paul Ryan's budget plan and the GOP leadership in the House are highly unpopular. Given that the GOP field has yet to take shape and Donald Trump is completely discredited, the president has the opportunity to take advantage of the enormous amount of goodwill that has been generated by this event to fill the void that has been left by the Republicans.
Osama bin Laden's killing is not a game changer. Rather, it is a profound opportunity for the president to show leadership not only in international affairs, but on vexatious domestic issues which are of paramount importance to American people.
If the president can translate the goodwill he has garnered into leadership on the budget, the deficit, and the debt, he can turn a bounce much smaller than most expected into a lasting political benefit. Short of that, while the expression of enthusiasm for Obama's Osama achievement is real, tangible, and part of his legacy, it just may not help re-elect him in 2012.
Douglas Schoen is a political strategist and author of the upcoming book Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System to be published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins on September 14. Schoen has worked on numerous campaigns, including those of Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Evan Bayh, Tony Blair, and Ed Koch.