US President Barack Obama said the killing of Osama bin Laden marked a “good day for America.”
Polls show it was good day for the president, too.
Two surveys released on Tuesday found the president’s approval ratings climbed to 56 percent, a 9-point improvement over last month. The polls were conducted on Monday after details were released about the Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden’s fortified compound north of Islamabad. The results were reported by the Washington Post/Pew Research Center and USA Today/Gallup Poll.
While the killing of bin Laden has seized US and world attention, such events can prove ephemeral, particularly after a brutal presidential campaign. Obama’s improved approval after success in tracking down the world’s most-wanted terrorist could mean little when voters enter polling booths 18 months from now.
Republicans lining up to challenge Obama will be banking on Americans to revert to pocketbook issues when they cast their ballots.
With no clear front-runner yet, some of the potential Republican field will gather for a first candidates’ debate of the election season today in Greenville, South Carolina. There is no doubt the field of challengers will pound Obama about the nation’s upward spiraling debt and what they see as a need to cut spending, while rejecting tax increases.
Obama remains vulnerable on the economy. The Washington Post/Pew Research Center poll showed that only 40 percent of those surveyed approved of the president’s handling of the economy. Other polls last week found that about 70 percent of Americans felt the country was on the wrong track.
The reason is obvious.
Even though the economy is slowly recovering from the Great Recession, unemployment remains near 9 percent, a high level for the US. Gasoline prices have shot up to about US$4 a gallon (almost US$1 a liter), roughly a third more than just six months ago.
As household budgets are hit hard by rising fuel costs, big oil companies raked in record profits in the first quarter of this year. US economic growth slowed sharply in the same period, partly because of high gasoline prices.
Home values continue to sink as financial institutions harvest huge earnings. The skyrocketing national debt is weighing heavily on the minds of taxpayers, who also fear the government will try to balance the budget by cutting away the social safety net for the poor and the elderly.
The stock market and corporate profits are bounding upward, but middle class wages are stagnant or falling when adjusted for inflation.
While Obama has received generally broad bipartisan and international backing for the killing of bin Laden, Americans at the same time report increased fears about retaliatory al-Qaeda attacks.
The USA Today/Gallup Poll survey found that more than six in 10 of those contacted said a terrorist attack was likely in the coming weeks.
That, the pollsters said, was “the highest rate of public nervousness in eight years.”
Still the praise for Obama from unexpected quarters may portend a lingering betterment of the president’s approval numbers.
The polls surveyed randomly selected adults by telephone on Monday. The Post/Pew poll included 654 interviews; USA Today/Gallup interviewed 645. Both have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.