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May 10, 2011

Obama's Special Forces Bounce: Small But Potentially Crucial

NBC/Wall Street Journal finds a three point bounce, which sounds about right.

A new NBC News poll showed that the president's job approval rating ticked up to 52 percent after the successful strike against al Qaeda's leader. That's just three percentage points higher than the approval rating he received in April, before the raid.


Just 31 percent believe the economy will improve in the next year, down from 40 percent in January. And the survey showed that approval of President Obama's handling of the economy has actually declined since then, to 37 percent.

But the president's ratings on other dimensions have improved. Some 57 percent approve his handling of foreign policy, up from 49 percent last month.
Moreover, President Obama gets higher marks in the survey for leadership, crisis management, decisiveness, direction of the Afghanistan war, and serving as commander in chief.

All these polls skew Democrat so it's not really his absolute level of support I'm looking at, just the difference from one skewed poll to another.

These are the worst numbers on the economy he's seen.

Note that the partisan sample in this poll, if you include leaners, is a ridiculous 44/31 in favor of Democrats, so his true economic numbers are actually several points worse than this. His previous rock-bottom rating was 39/56 last August, but as noted in the piece, gas prices and the unemployment uptick have left the country exasperated — or so I assume.

Obama did one good thing. Conservatives may try to deny him any credit for that, but that effort is futile; he'll get some.

But we usually don't consider a president successful for doing one good thing and dozens of bad things. One success cancels out one, or maybe several, failures; but it doesn't cancel out all of them.

It's also a fact of life that terrorism and foreign policy are not tip-top issues for most voters anymore, not like they were from 2001-2005. That's how Democrats got into office in the first place-- by downplaying such issues, and the public agreeing that they should be downplayed. The public isn't going to suddenly make these issues of 2001-2005 potency just because Captain Bullshit reverses his previous position and now declares we should vote exclusively on terrorism.

Joe Biden parodied Rudolph Giuliani's focus on 9/11 by saying every one of his sentences was "a noun, a verb, and 9/11."

I don't think that this administration-- previously dismissive of such things as "distraction" -- is well-positioned to fully capitalize on a good foreign policy outcome.

And beyond that -- there are a number of bad foreign policy outcomes on the horizon.

As any Democrat may have said in 2005 -- "So, Bush is pounding the terrorists. That doesn't help our schools or our budget or get me a job."

Live by the sewer, die by the sewer.

Poll analyst Nate Silver expects the bounce to persist, but to a small extent -- but in a close election (which this could wind up being), that little bit might be what Obama needs.

I’ve hypothesized — and to be clear, this is just a guess — that killing Bin Laden might provide Mr. Obama with a permanent gain of one percentage point in his approval rating, which will be left over after the initial bounce fades. Since almost all people who approve of a president vote to re-elect him, this would increase Mr. Obama’s share of the vote in November 2012 by one percentage point, while decreasing his Republican opponent’s share by roughly the same margin.

In the 35 presidential elections since the Civil War, there have been 9 elections (1876, 1880, 1884, 1888, 1916, 1948, 1960, 1976, 2000) in which the losing candidate would have won the electoral vote had he received 1 percentage point more of the vote in each state, and his opponent 1 percentage point less. That’s a pretty frequent occurrence — it’s happened 26 percent of the time.

What this means is that if a presidential candidate were spotted an additional 1 percentage point “bonus” in each state at the expense of his opponent, he would win in the Electoral College an additional 13 percent of the time. (Why 13 percent and not 26 percent? Because among the close elections, the candidate is already on the winning side half the time, in which case the bonus votes would be superfluous.)

Who can tell? No one knows the future. It reminds me of when British PM Harold MacMillan was asked what is most likely to push a government off course. "Events, dear boy, events," he is alleged to have answered.

What decides elections? Events.

But the main event is a "boring" one from a news perspective: The economy continues to be hideously bad. The media doesn't like talking about that so much. Not just because of a conscious desire to downplay bad news to boost Obama (though there is a lot of that), but an unconscious tendency of everyone towards optimistic scenarios. They want to believe that Obama can and will win reelection; they seize upon news that they think tends towards that outcome, and shy away from news they think tends against it.

This bias has an effect on the public. They can't make people forget that gas is $4 a gallon, but they can do a lot to make sure people's first thought isn't "This is Obama's fault."

But that only works to some extent. There is no way to hypnotize an unemployed man into thinking he's doing splendidly in Obama's New America.

The main event is the economy, and that's not going to change. If Obama gets a string of positive good news -- good events -- he could overcome that.

But I don't think one good event is enough to offset a dozen bad ones.

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posted by Ace at 11:28 AM

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