Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Obama’s political momentum: A little or a lot?

President Barack Obama is destined to receive a bump in his poll numbers after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

But how long will it last?

That question vexed experts Monday, with most saying the bounce is unlikely to last long enough to help the president in his 2012 re-election campaign.

“This will give him some momentum and put him out of the danger category, at least for a little bit,” said pollster John Zogby.

The first national polls probably won’t be published until today or Wednesday, Zogby said. He predicted that Obama would receive a bump of about 10 points in his job approval rating. Last week, 46 percent of Americans approved of the job Obama is doing and 46 percent disapproved, according to a Gallup poll.

That 10-point bump would be far short of the 35-point boost that President George W. Bush received in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

The popular surge in the polls could last several weeks — or longer. Or it could dissipate within days should a new crisis emerge or if American weariness with the slow-to-rebound economy or high gasoline prices again sets in.

“It’s so hard to say,” Zogby said. “There are just so many variables.”

The next presidential election is 18 months away — an eternity in American politics. Rallies “dissipate fairly quickly,” noted Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief.

Bush enjoyed a seven-point bump in the days after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003. But it was gone late the next month when his job approval dipped to 49 percent.

But there are exceptions. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush’s job approval numbers remained elevated for 105 weeks compared with what they were before the assaults. President Franklin Roosevelt’s job approval was up for 46 weeks after Pearl Harbor.

Obama could see some lasting value with that crucial bloc of independent voters who make up about one-third of the electorate and swing presidential elections to one party or the other.

“They’re looking for resolve, problem-solving, decisiveness,” Zogby said. “And this has all of that.”

All day Monday, politicians from both parties issued statements or stood before TV cameras to offer their reactions. Almost without fail, Democrats hailed the president by name, praising his courage for, as U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri put it, “one of the most significant achievements in our nation’s efforts to combat terrorism worldwide.”

Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, noted that the U.S. has been chasing bin Laden for 10 years.

“Obama is the one who put focus on it, authorized it and got it done,” she said.

Some Republicans also praised the president, but some did so in a slightly different way, saying the attack on bin Laden’s compound Sunday showed that Obama had followed the Bush playbook on combating terrorism or that any accolades belonged to America’s military.

“This achievement is a great triumph for the U.S. military,” said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican. “They deserve the credit. … The president deserves credit for letting the military do its job and not pulling them off course.”

Giving a president “credit or blame” is hard, Kobach said, because “most people recognize the individual successes of the American armed forces on the battlefield.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential 2012 presidential contender, said the victory is a “tribute to the patient endurance of American justice.” He commended both Bush, “who led the campaign against our enemies through seven long years,” and Obama, “who continued and intensified the campaign in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Alex Poulter with Political Chips, a Lenexa tea party organizing group, said that the credit goes to “the greatest military in the world” and that tea partiers are “very grateful and thankful that President Obama had the wherewithal and intestinal fortitude to go against his party and his campaign rhetoric to follow the path drawn up for him by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.”

The key for Obama will be to stack up several other accomplishments in the wake of bin Laden’s death, said Kansas State University political scientist Joe Aistrup.

“If he can back it up with some more positive news in a variety of areas, this will build,” Aistrup said. “If it’s a lone victory, he’s going to be hurting come election time.”

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