Economy still key concern for 2012

Likely to flatten bin Laden ‘bump’

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A job-approval boost for President Obama is almost inevitable following the dramatic Sunday-night announcement that U.S. military forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

But the federal debt, the prospect of the U.S. dollar being replaced as the world’s reserve currency, jobs, gasoline prices and other economic considerations are almost sure to trump whatever political benefit Democrats get as a result of bin Laden’s capture and death coming on Mr. Obama’s watch.

Obama’s boost in popularity will last until your gas tank is empty and you need to refill - or you need to buy food or find a job,” Republican campaign strategist John McLaughlin said.

However, former acting U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has been a harsh critic of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, said successes such as the bin Laden killing always benefit an incumbent president, regardless of the merits.

“It takes nothing away from Obama’s decision to say that any president would have seized this opportunity to eliminate bin Laden,” added Mr. Bolton, a Republican who served in the George W. Bush administration.

While military successes historically produce a rise in the chief executive’s public-approval number, that does not necessarily result in electoral success.

The job-approval rating of President George H.W. Bush soared into the low 90s in some polls after the success of his Desert Storm military operation to oust Iraqi military forces from Kuwait in 1991. But by November 1992, the slumping economy had trumped every other issue, Mr. Bush’s approval had plummeted from its heights, and Democrat Bill Clinton denied Mr. Bush a second term in the White House.

His son went on to win two White House terms in part because of and in part despite military actions of uncertain outcome.

The younger Mr. Bush’s military action in Afghanistan to capture bin Laden after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks failed, earning criticism from both Democrats and some fellow Republicans for tactical military failures. However, Mr. Bush narrowly won re-election in 2004, the vote coming a year after a new war against Iraq had resulted in a quick and decisive military victory but before Iraq had collapsed into a sectarian war.

Pollsters say that for Mr. Obama, the long-sought termination of bin Laden likely will not last and comes too far ahead of the 2012 election to do much good for his re-election bid.

“The bin Laden story has 48 hours of action and once more on 9/11 - unless there is another terrorist attack,” pollster David Paleologos said.

However, at least one veteran conservative analyst predicts a more sustained advantage for Mr. Obama from bin Laden’s death than the elder Mr. Bush earned from Desert Storm.

“Unless there is some horrific retaliation, this helps Obama even through November since it makes him look good and helps get foreign policy off the news,” former Reagan administration official Donald J. Devine said, though he cautioned that “it will not help greatly, as the economy will be the key.”

Republican pollster Matt Towery agreed, saying that “yes, a bump will take place, but it will only remain through the election if the economy really starts to improve.”

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore told The Times that predicting the impact of Sunday’s announcement is a no-brainer.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.


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