We were told that the average polling bump for a president after a major international win was 13% over 22 months. But, at least according to Gallup, Obama hasn’t done that well after the most dramatic national security event since 9/11:
Americans’ approval of President Barack Obama is up six points after the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on the al Qaeda leader’s Pakistan compound. Obama averaged 46% approval in Gallup Daily tracking in the three days leading up to the military operation and has averaged 52% across the three days since.
Some polls show less of a lift and some more. But by Gallup’s standard’s, Obama’s bounce falls short of other major events. “The largest rally Gallup has ever measured was a 35-point increase for George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Other large rally effects include an 18-point increase for George H.W. Bush at the beginning of the 1991 Persian Gulf War; a 16-point jump for Richard Nixon after the Vietnam War peace accords were signed; and 14-point increases for George H.W. Bush after the U.S. sent troops to Kuwait following Iraq’s invasion of that country and for Lyndon Johnson after he announced he was halting bombing in North Vietnam.”
Part of the explanation is that Obama didn’t gain any ground with Democrats (he went up 12 points with Republicans and 9 points with independents). It seems the left isn’t all that impressed with leading from the front on the world stage.
So why isn’t Obama getting more credit? There could be many reasons. Opinion is very entrenched regarding Obama. The public largely credits the military rather than one or both presidents (Obama and Bush) for the master stroke. Some of the luster may already have come off in the post-killing communications snafus and the tussle over the release of the raid photos. And, maybe most important, the economy hasn’t gotten any better. That remains voters’ first priority. Finally, unlike 9/11, which was the beginning of a war, the killing of bin Laden is not the beginning of a national undertaking. In sum, Obama got a pat on the back, not an extended embrace. The public wants to know: What are you going to do for me now?
If the jobs number tomorrow is underwhelming or if Obama persists with the idea of taxing people by miles driven (I just paid $72 to fill up my tank, so I don’t think adding to driving costs is going to help), the foreign policy victory will be fleeting. If Obama feels peeved that he’s not getting much credit, he should consider his predecessor. Bush lifted a country up, liberated tens of millions of Iraqis, eliminated a vicious dictator and helped introduce democracy to Iraq. He left with dreary approval ratings. Here’s the thing about foreign policy: Presidents need to do what is right, not what is popular. Their reward is in defending America and, perhaps, in credit awarded long after they have left the scene.