President Obama Approval Rating: Boost From Osama Bin Laden Death Likely

The death of Osama bin Laden could boost Obama's favorability in polls.

ByABC News
May 2, 2011, 1:04 PM

May 2, 2011— -- The death of Osama bin Laden is an enormous and immediate political victory for President Obama, who has faced periodic criticism for his handling of the fight against al Qaeda and struggles to resolve the conflict in Afghanistan.

While the immediate impact on the president's job approval rating is yet to be known, experts say, the killing of bin Laden -- one of candidate Obama's top campaign promises in 2008 -- will likely lead to a boost in his poll numbers and added credibility for Obama's foreign policy message on the campaign trail.

"It gives him a firewall on Afghanistan," said Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a veteran of several presidential administrations.

To some extent, it "pulls the rug right out from under" the potential Republican presidential candidates who have criticized the president's strategy, Hess said, adding that many in the likely GOP field "are certainly not coming from a very strong position as foreign policy experts themselves."

In the most recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, 49 percent of Americans last month said they disapproved of Obama's handling of the situation in Afghanistan -- an all-time low -- up 8 percentage points since the beginning of the year. Those numbers could begin to turn around, at least in the short term.

Immediately after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, then-President George W. Bush experienced a 10-point surge in U.S. approval of his handling of the war in Iraq, according to many polls. Bush's job approval rating gradually gained 6 points.

But excitement over Saddam's capture gradually waned, and with it Bush's polls numbers, as Americans turned their attention to the nation's economic woes. Many people wonder whether Obama will experience the same fate heading into the 2012 campaign.

"It provides a momentary lift to the president and his numbers," GOP strategist Carl Forti said. "But next month, we'll be back debating the debt ceiling. And in a year, this moment will have zero impact on people's decision-making on who should be president."

Former George H.W. Bush political adviser Ron Kaufman said, "One of his goals was to get this guy [Osama], and he got him. But there's a whole bunch more to foreign policy than getting one objective done. There's no disagreement on this; this wasn't some risky, gutsy, unique thing that he wanted to do."

Polls show fewer than half of Americans believe it was necessary to capture or kill bin Laden for the global war against terrorism to succeed. But Obama has repeatedly said that hunting down the mastermind of the 9-11 attacks remained a top priority.

"Let me make this clear," Obama said on the campaign trail in August 2007. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets [in Pakistan], and President [Pervez] Musharraf won't act, we will."

Accomplishing the feat is now likely to bolster Obama's credibility for handling terrorism issues, where he already has an edge over Republicans, according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll earlier this year.

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said the timing of bin Laden's death could even help give Obama more leverage in the short term heading into a debate with Republicans on key domestic issues such as the budget and the debt ceiling.

"Everything helps," Ornstein said in an interview with ABC News, cautioning that the longer-term implications are much harder to predict.