Experts: Bin Laden death to improve Obama's approval, for now

BY ALLIE WRIGHT | MAY 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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While Osama bin Laden's death has offered a sense relief and a surge of unity for the American public, political experts say it will not solidify President Obama's re-election in 2012.

Instead, several said the country's economic standing and other political issues will hold more weight by 2012.

Late Sunday night, Obama announced the U.S. military had launched a "targeted attack" Sunday that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

"The bottom line for the 2012 general election is [bin Laden's death] certainly doesn't hurt Obama to have been successful," said David Redlawsk, a political-science professor at Rutgers University and former political-science faculty member at the University of Iowa. "But I think in the end, the election is more likely to turn on where we are in the economy."

Gary Langer, the president of Langer Research Associates — which produces surveys, and conducts research and data evaluation for clients — also said the national economy will be a more relevant issue during the election season. He said health care and overall political ideology will affect voters next year as well.

But for now, he said, bin Laden's death will support Obama's already strong ratings in terms of his work against terrorism. According to the most recent report from Gallup.com's daily tracker, 46 percent of Americans approve of Obama's presidency. The survey was taken from April 29 to May 1.

"It's hard to imagine the president not getting some credit," he said.

Langer said Monday was too early to see any potential changes in approval ratings for the president following bin Laden's death. But he said he expects new poll results to be announced today.

Langer, a pollster for ABC News, said this situation is similar to that of Saddam Hussein's capture in 2003. That success boosted former President George Bush's approval ratings from December 2003 to February 2004. According to one of Langer's recent blogs for ABC News, Bush saw a 10-point jump in approval ratings immediately following Saddam's capture.

Sunday's operation in Pakistan will likely do the same for Obama's approval ratings, Langer said, but they won't be permanent.

But even if the higher ratings don't stick, bin Laden's death may force potential Republican presidential candidates to shift their campaigns into high gear in order to compete.

"There's likely going to be some kind of positive fallout for [Obama], which makes it tougher for any Republican candidate to attack him on that point," Redlawsk said.

As caucus season approaches, he said, current and potential Republican presidential-nomination candidates don't have the foreign-policy experience to compete with Obama on national-security issues.

"There isn't someone who can stand up and take advantage of this, as far as I can tell," Redlawsk said.

Even though the economy will overshadow other issues in the next election, UI political-science Professor Bob Boynton said this victory will benefit the president. Bin Laden's death may help Americans to feel safer, Boynton said, because he was a long-standing symbol of terrorism.

"This certainly doesn't hurt [Obama] in terms of people believing he's doing a good job as president," Boynton said.

But time is also a factor.

Because there are approximately 18 months before next year's election, experts said, a lot can happen on the political stage to sway American voters' decisions.

"I don't think Obama supporters should be celebrating his re-election quite yet," Redlawsk said.

Daily Iowan reporter Hayley Bruce contributed to this report.

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