[Posted by Karl]
Crass, but inevitable. In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, media and pollsters rushed into the field to insta-poll public reaction. Taken together, Pres. Obama is seeing a significant boost in numbers on handling terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan. However, the overall “Osama bounce” for his general job approval numbers looks below average so far.
Let’s start with the WaPo/Pew figures:
Barack Obama’s job approval rating has jumped in the wake of bin Laden’s killing. In the one-day survey, 56% say they approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president while 38% disapprove. Last month, Obama’s job rating was about evenly divided — 47% approved, 45% disapproved. Obama has gotten about the same boost in job approval as did former President Bush in the days after the U.S. military’s capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Following Saddam’s capture, Bush’s rating rose from 50% to 57%. (A more comprehensive survey will be conducted May 5-8 to follow up on these preliminary reactions to the death of bin Laden and Obama’s job performance.)
However, while Obama’s ratings for dealing with the situation in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism have improved dramatically — by 16 points and 14 points, respectively, since January — opinions about his handling of the economy have not. Just 40% approve and 55% disapprove of his job performance on the economy, which is little changed from April.
Obama gets far more credit from the public than does George W. Bush for bin Laden’s killing. But the military and the CIA and other intelligence agencies receive much more credit — fully 86% say the U.S. military deserves a “great deal” of credit and 66% say the same about the CIA and other intelligence agencies.
Roughly a third (35%) say that Obama deserves a great deal of credit for bin Laden’s demise, and a large majority (76%) says he deserves a great deal or “some” credit. By comparison, 51% say that Bush deserves either a great deal (15%) or some credit (36%) for the death of bin Laden.
On the other hand, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday showed a statistically insignificant one point rise in the president’s overall approval rating compared to a poll taken over the weekend. Based on the historical data below, I would tend to favor the WaPo’s 9% boost — but the NewsBeast poll also showed no change in Obama’s overall approval rating (there is good news for him in some of the NewsBeast internals, including perception as a leader and head-to-head matchups against GOP rivals).
How do these numbers stack up against past bounces? Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies has a handy chart stretching back to Pearl Harbor, noting that — excepting the unusually large 35% bounce George W. Bush got following 9/11 — the bounce from this sort of event averages 13% for about 22 weeks. Bolger’s numbers are not directly comparable, as they come from Gallup. Oddly, Gallup did its own quickie poll, but did not release job approval numbers for Pres. Obama. However, the Gallup numbers on awarding credit are quite similar to the Pew numbers, so I would be surprised if Gallup shows much more of an overall approval boost than Pew does (more numbers are due tomorrow). Assuming this for the moment, Obama’s overall poll average seems unlikely to move more than a few points.
What do these numbers mean politically? Stephen Hayes and David Corn — who probably do not agree on much — both think the numbers are pointless and that what really matters is whether the GOP charge that Obama is weak on defense is now useless. That is an important point, but probably not the whole point, for at least three reasons. First, we have no way of knowing what other foreign policy or war news may crop up between now and November 2012. Second, as George H.W. Bush learned in 1992, after a war bounce fades, the election may turn more on the economy and the deficit. Third, in the short-term, a boost in job approval could help Obama on non-war issues. After a midterm shellacking, Bill Clinton’s handling of the Oklahoma City bombing helped change the perception of his presidency, which in turn helped him confront the GOP over the budget (and that was after a mere four point bounce of shorter duration). Obama probably hopes the same sort of dynamic will help him now, but the early numbers suggest he may be disappointed.
Part 2: The curious NYT/CBS poll
After analyzing yesterday’s insta-polls on the killing of Osama bin Laden — and any resulting effect on Pres. Obama’s political standing — I had not planned on revisiting the issue. However, today’s NYT/CBS poll is sufficiently strange to warrant special attention:
Support for President Obama has risen sharply following the killing of Osama bin Laden by American military forces in Pakistan, 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.
That 11% boost is not much higher than the 9% reported yesterday by the WaPo/Pew poll. It is margin-of-error type stuff — given the historical pro-Obama house effect of the NYT/CBS poll, it is hardly noticeable. Yet there are two points worth noting.
First, there is the usual NYT/CBS sample weighting. The D/R/I party ID of the raw sample was 36/24/32, which was reweighted (pdf) only slightly to 36/24/40. That’s slightly more skewed to the Dems than the last NYT/CBS poll Ed Morrissey mocked in April. For comparison, Gallup recently reported that Democratic Party identification dropped to a 22-year low in 2010, for a D/R/I breakdown of 31/29/38. By that measure, the NYT/CBS Democratic skew is 10%.
However, the skewed sample is standard operating procedure for the NYT/CBS combine. The truly strange thing about this particular poll is tucked away in the paper’s separate explanation of how it was conducted:
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll is based on telephone interviews conducted May 2 and 3 with 532 adults throughout the United States.
The poll’s respondents had also been interviewed in a separate poll conducted April 28 to May 1 by CBS News, before President Obama’s announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death.
The 11% bounce reported in this poll is measured from the NYT/CBS poll taken April 15-20, 2011, not the poll taken taken just before bin Laden was killed. The 9% bounce reported by WaPo/Pew was by comparison to a poll taken March 30 – April 3. Looking at the RCP poll average for Obama’s job approval reveals that Obama was in a downward trend at the start of April that bottomed on April 20th and had been heading fairly steadily upward ever since. Indeed, Obama hit a low of 41% in the Gallup poll on April 15 but stood at 46% in that poll last weekend. Measured from April 15, Obama’s current Gallup number of 50% (and it’s likely to be a couple of points higher tomorrow, given the rolling 3-day average) would give him a bounce just below the average historical 13% bounce (which can be found at the first link in this post), but the modern news/polling cycle now tells us the actual bounce is maybe five or six percent or — per the CNN and NewsBeast polls in the field last weekend — even less.
We now know that NYT/CBS was also in the field last weekend before bin Laden’s death. It is possible that their April 28 – May 1 poll was about something other than politics, but it seems unlikely, given the other news organizations’ polls. The herd mentality of establishment journalism is well known. Plus, the only other poll-driven story the NYT has run since ObL’s death is based on leftover data from March. It should have occurred to the NYT (and CBS) that if your explanation of a poll raises more questions than it answers, you probably have more ‘splainin to do.