Bin Laden Death: Obama Approval Rating Spikes, but Republicans Say Economy More Important

Republicans try to highlight economy after bin Laden death.

ByABC News
May 3, 2011, 12:23 PM

May 3, 2011 — -- The death of Osama bin Laden has given President Obama's job approval rating a significant boost, but did nothing to temper Americans' concerns about his handling of the economy, a new Washington Post and Pew Research Center poll finds.

Fifty-six percent of Americans now say they approve of Obama's performance in office overall, according to the poll -- nine percentage points higher than an ABC News/Washington Post poll found last month, and the highest rating for Obama since 2009.

But on the economy, Obama's numbers remain low and unchanged -- only 40 percent approve of his economic strategy, the lowest rating of his presidency, according to the Post.

While Obama basks in the attention he got by presiding over the killing of the world's most wanted man, many Republicans are working hard to try to drive attention back to the issue that they'd like to see define the 2012 presidential campaign: the struggling economy.

"The enduring issue is the strength of our economy and our ability to create good jobs," tweeted Jim Merrill, a strategist for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who spent the morning at a small business roundtable meeting in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Former Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty, in Ames, Iowa, told the crowd at a Pizza Ranch restaurant today that a strong economy is also important to security, the Des Moines Register's Kathy Obradovich reported.

The message is a somewhat unusual dynamic for a field of Republicans, many of whom have long counted on national security to be their strong suit in appealing to voters. In the past, some of them have flown to Afghanistan to celebrate in the wake of big news.

Now, Republicans are interested in keeping the focus of the election stateside instead of overseas. This isn't to say that Republicans are going to ignore international issues, but their focus will be on domestic issues – like jobs, gas prices and the deficit.

In 2004, President George W. Bush won re-election on the strength of his security bona fides. Going into the election, ABC News polling showed that while Americans trusted Sen. John Kerry more on handling economic issues (48 percent to 43 percent), they saw Bush as more able in the war against terrorism by a whopping twelve points (52 to 40 percent).

During the 2008 presidential election, voters were evenly divided on which party they trusted more to handle the threat from terrorism, but Obama held a 15-point lead on the issue of the economy. Strategists on both sides of the aisle believe the margin may be much smaller this year.

"Bottom line: It's still the economy and while bringing bin Laden to justice is a cause everyone approves, most Americans are also anxious about their economic futures as well," said Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

"This election will turn on the economy, jobs and what people feel is in their purse strings, purses and wallets," former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told ABC News' "Top Line" on Monday, "unless there is another incident or flare-up in the Middle East that dominates the next year."

And while Obama's approval rating boost comes as little surprise, many are wondering how long it will last.

The average polling bounce for presidents during times of international crisis is 13 percent for 22 weeks, according to an analysis of Gallup Poll data by GCA Public Opinion Strategies.

Immediately after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003, then-President George W. Bush had a 10-point surge in public approval of his handling of the war in Iraq, according to many polls. Bush's job approval rating gradually gained 15 points.

But excitement over Saddam's capture gradually waned over seven weeks, and with it Bush's polls numbers, as Americans turned their attention to the nation's economic woes.

Bin Laden's death "provides a momentary lift to the president and his numbers," said GOP strategist Carl Forti. "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."

ABC News' Michael Falcone contributed to this report.