For Obama, Big Rise in Poll Numbers After Bin Laden Raid
By JAMES DAO and DALIA SUSSMAN
Support for President Obama rose sharply after the killing of Osama bin Laden, with a majority now approving of his overall job performance, as well as his handling of foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The glow of national pride seemed to rise above partisan politics, as support for the president rose significantly among both Republicans and independents. In all, 57 percent said they now approved of the president’s job performance, up from 46 percent last month.
But euphoria was tempered by a sense of foreboding: more than six in 10 Americans said that killing Bin Laden was likely to increase the threat of terrorism against the United States in the short term. A large majority also said that the Qaeda leader’s death did not make them feel any safer. Just 16 percent said they personally felt more safe now.
Though there has been talk in some quarters that the United States military can now leave Afghanistan, the poll showed that public sentiment on the issue seems more complicated.
Nearly half said the nation should decrease troop levels in Afghanistan. But more than six in 10 also said the United States had not completed its mission in Afghanistan, suggesting that the public would oppose a rapid withdrawal of all American forces.
One Democrat polled, Richard Olbrich, 68, said in a follow-up interview that Bin Laden’s death was not sufficient reason to remove all American forces.
“The Taliban needs to be defeated,” said Mr. Olbrich, a lawyer from Madison, Wis. “I have no idea how long it will take to complete that mission. And we can’t leave until Afghanistan is back on its feet a little bit.”
The Obama administration has said it plans to begin a gradual drawdown of troops from Afghanistan this summer, with a complete withdrawal to be completed in 2014.
It is common for presidents to see their poll numbers shoot up after major military or foreign policy successes. But they usually do not sustain the ratings.
Mr. Obama’s job approval rating rose 11 points, compared with an 8-point increase for President George W. Bush, to 58 percent, after the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Mr. Bush’s bump evaporated within a month.
The increase in Mr. Obama’s ratings came largely from Republicans and independents. Among independents, his approval rating increased 11 points from last month, to 52 percent, while among Republicans it rose 15 points, to 24 percent. Among Democrats, 86 percent supported his job performance, compared with 79 percent in April.
But in an indication that anxieties about unemployment, gas prices and the national debt have not withered with Bin Laden’s death, good will toward Mr. Obama did not extend to his economic policies. More than half said they disapproved of his handling of the economy, similar to the result last month, the poll found.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, addressed those worries on Wednesday, saying, “The country is still emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”
“I think that gas prices have weighed heavily on Americans as they try to make ends meet,” Mr. Carney said. “And it’s entirely understandable why that sentiment is out there, because people are struggling.”
Mr. Obama received higher marks in several major areas of foreign policy. Slightly more than half said they liked the way he was handling foreign policy generally, up from 39 percent in April. About six in 10 approved of his handling of Afghanistan, up from 44 percent in January. And more than seven in 10 supported his handling of the terrorism threat, up from about half in August 2010.
Perhaps least surprising, more than eight in 10 said they supported his handling of the pursuit of Bin Laden.
Diane Bottum, 63, a Republican from Lafayette, Ind., said she thought that the commando operation to kill Bin Laden was a “macho thing” that would encourage many Republicans to vote for Mr. Obama next year.
“Wiping out Bin Laden has been almost 10 years in the making, so it’s really significant,” Ms. Bottum, a retired university professor, said. “I’m convinced he’s nailed the next election.”
The government placed military bases and diplomatic offices on higher alert after Bin Laden’s death, and those concerns about retaliatory attacks by Qaeda supporters are reflected in public opinion. About seven in 10 said they thought a terrorist attack in the United States in the next few months was somewhat or very likely, the highest percentage since 2004.
“When I first heard the news, I thought, ‘We’d better watch it,’ ” said Monica Byrne, 48, an independent from Paramus, N.J. “Attacks could be anywhere, but I feel the New York metropolitan area is a target because they want to disrupt our lives, especially in the financial and business sectors.”
In the long term, Americans were divided over the impact of the Qaeda leader’s death, with about a quarter saying the threat of terrorism would increase, about a quarter saying it would decrease and about 40 percent saying it would stay the same.
Americans were less ambivalent about whether the killing was a success, with nearly 90 percent calling it either a major or minor victory in the war on terrorism.
More than four in 10 Americans, 44 percent, also now think that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terrorism, up from 36 percent in 2006. But a significant minority, 45 percent, say the war is a draw.
The poll found opinion divided about whether the death of Bin Laden had brought a sense of closure about the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Half said it had, while 45 percent said it had not. Majorities of Northeasterners and Westerners said they did not feel closure.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted May 2 and 3 with 532 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.