President Obama’s top reelection strategist said Wednesday that it was too early to tell if the killing of Osama bin Laden would affect the November 2012 election, even as some national polls showed an uptick in Obama’s job approval.
“I’m hesitant to put this in political terms, because it was decidedly not a political decision,” David Axelrod told the Chicago Tribune. “God knows what’s going to happen between now and November 2012 that will change things for the better or worse politically from our standpoint. That’s the nature of this work.”
Polls conducted by the Washington Post-Pew Research Center, The New York Times/CBS News, CNN/Opinion Research Center and Gallup Organization, showed Obama’s job approval rating rising anywhere from 1 percentage point to 11 percentage points from polling done prior to the president’s announcement Sunday that U.S. special operation forces had killed Bin Laden.
“There are a lot of challenges people are facing in their lives. We have a lot of work to do to meet them; many of them having to do with our economy,” Axelrod said.
“So this [killing of Bin Laden] was an important event for our country and it does suggest to people that as the president said in his State of the Union, ‘We do big things,’” he said. “This was a tough challenge. We met it. But there are other tough challenges and we have to keep plugging away at those.”
Historically, a dramatic presidential action has resulted in short-term bumps in job approval before a presidential campaign kicks into gear. Following the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush had a job approval rating of 89% in a Gallup survey, only to lose his reelection bid to Democrat Bill Clinton, who focused on the nation’s economic woes.
His son, President George W. Bush, had a 90% job approval rating in a Gallup survey just days after the Bin Laden-orchestrated terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and also had a better than 60% rating after announcing Saddam Hussein’s capture in Iraq. That fell to about 50% during his reelection bid.
Obama traveled last Friday to tour tornado-stricken Alabama at the same time he ordered the operation to proceed. The next night, he attended the White House Correspondents’ Assn. dinner, where he heard Saturday Night Live comedian and head writer Seth Meyers joke that rather than hiding, Bin Laden was hosting an obscure show on C-SPAN.
Axelrod said compartmentalization is one of “these extraordinary qualities” required of presidents “and the reason that people get to be president.”
Bin Laden’s death “avenges a terrible crime and it brought some sense of justice and closure to that horrific episode,” Axelrod said. “As a practical matter, it affects our national security and people are rightly concerned about that, but they have other concerns as well, and when you’re president, you have to do many things at once.”