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Will Bin Laden Death Strengthen Obama's Political Hand?

Obama's 'bin Laden dividend' won't last for long

Whatever "bin Laden dividend" President Obama is likely to enjoy will have an expiration date on it.

See also: Medicare in the crosshairs.

Obama's approval ratings jumped after he ordered a Navy SEAL raid that killed the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden. But political experts say that will fade, as will any impact it has on his ability to solve questions closer to home, like how to cut the budget deficit and whether to change Medicare.

Obama's job approval ratings jumped 11 percentage points after the raid to 57 percent, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, and 9 percentage points, according to a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa who studies older voters, says bin Laden's death was especially important to older people.

"That's a very patriotic generation. The fact America was losing its reputation as the leader of the free world was starting to grate on seniors." Among 65-plus adults asked whether they approved or disapproved of President Obama's performance, for example, his rating changed from a 50-42 disapproval on April 1 to a 49-46 approval rating in the most recent Washington Post-Pew survey.

But plenty of Obama's predecessors can remind him of how fleeting the glow of victory is.

Glen Bolger, a partner with the Republican consulting firm Public Opinion Strategies, says presidents on average get a 13 percentage-point bump in approval ratings after a major national security event.

"Clearly he's gotten a bump, and it's a deserved one," Bolger says. "But with the economy and the deficit, the question is: How long will it last?"

Surges in presidential approval have an end date

On average, Bolger says, the increase wears off completely in about 30 weeks. That means Obama's bump is not likely to last long enough to affect next year's presidential election. The capture of Saddam Hussein bought a 15 percentage-point jump that was erased in seven weeks, Bolger says. For the Cuban missile crisis, it was 12 points and 40 weeks. The start of the Iranian hostage crisis meant an increase of 19 percentage points for Carter and lasted 30 weeks. President Bush had a stunning 35 percentage point jump after 9/11, and his ratings didn't go back to the previous level for 105 weeks.

If the economy is struggling come November 2012, that issue will trump bin Laden's death, MacManus says.

Older people are especially concerned about the nation's debt load. "They see the debt as being counter to economic recovery, and they don't see their children's economic future is going to be protected without closing the debt gap," MacManus says.

Seniors are mad at everyone about the nation's fiscal imbalance, but probably a little madder at Congress than Obama, MacManus says.

The Obama administration and lawmakers are in negotiations over how to stanch the sea of red ink that is threatening the country's credit rating. Congress must vote this summer on whether to raise the debt ceiling and borrow more money — something Tea Party Republicans are loath to do.

Vice President Biden is meeting with a bipartisan group dubbed the Gang of Six to find a compromise between Republicans who don't want tax increases and Democrats who want to protect spending programs including Medicare.

Bolger says Obama may have an easier time getting his nominations approved in the afterglow of bin Laden's death but won't have a sudden red carpet materialize for his ideas on Capitol Hill. "On the big stuff — budget, spending, taxes, I don't see the Republicans suddenly saying: 'You were right and we were wrong.' "

The budget battle is likely to be messy

Some Democrats have pushed for raising the debt ceiling without any budget cuts, but others agree with Republicans that there must be a trade-off of reining in spending. Republicans, too, have differences of opinions among themselves over whether to work immediately to overhaul Medicare. Republican leaders sent mixed messages last week over whether they would continue to press hard to remake the Medicare program.

Next: Medicare may be untouchable. >>

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