WASHINGTON -- A handful of new national polls conducted in the immediate aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death reveal happiness and relief combined with improving perceptions of President Barack Obama's handling of terrorism and the war in Afghanistan. The results are more mixed when it comes to the expected bounce in his overall job approval rating.
The surveys, which were all conducted in just one day, show overwhelming public support for the commando raid that killed bin Laden:
- A USA Today/Gallup poll finds 93 percent approval of the raid, with almost as many, 79 percent, saying they consider the killing bin Laden extremely or very important.
- A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey finds most Americans feel either thrilled (37 percent) or happy (42 percent) about the death of bin Laden, while only 4 percent are unhappy.
- A Washington Post/Pew Research Center survey asks how Americans feel about bin Laden's death. It finds most respondents are relieved (72 percent), proud (60 percent) and happy (58 percent). (Participants could agree with more than one feeling.)
Two of the polls show big increases in ratings of Obama's handling of terrorism and the Afghanistan War. Specifically, the CNN poll shows a 7 point jump in approval of the president's handling of both "terrorism" (60 to 67 percent) and "the situation in Afghanistan" (from 51 to 58 percent) since January. The Washington Post/Pew Research poll shows even bigger gains on Obama's handling of "the threat of terrorism" (up from 56 to 69 percent approval) and "the situation in Afghanistan" (44 to 60 percent) compared to identically worded questions asked on a Washington Post/ABC News poll in April.
Washington Post's Monday night poll also shows a big increase, from 49 percent to in December to 64 percent now, in the number who believe that the U.S. will succeed "in achieving its goals in Afghanistan." Meanwhile, the number who think the U.S. will fail has fallen from 39 to 26 percent. The poll shows a continuing divide on whether to keep troops in Afghanistan "until the situation as stabilized" (47 percent) or remove them "as soon as possible" (48 percent).
The surveys are less consistent, however, when it comes to change in Obama's overall job rating:
- The Washington Post/Pew Research overnight survey shows a 9 point jump to 56 percent approval. Separate surveys conducted in April by the Pew Research Center and by ABC News/Washington Post from the same month both pegged Obama's approval rating at 47 percent.
- The CNN poll from Monday night finds Obama's overall job approval rising by just a single percentage point (from 51 to 52 percent) compared to interviews conducted on Friday and Saturday nights.
Not surprisingly, the two surveys find little or no change in ratings of Obama on the economy, the deficit and other issues. (If Gallup -- the other overnight survey -- asked for Obama approval ratings, they have not yet released the results.)
All of these results should be interpreted with caution, given the unique challenges of conducting a survey in a single evening. Many randomly selected respondents will not be available an any given evening, and those who are available and willing to participate may be more attuned to the day's news than those out of reach or unwilling. The sample methods are also different: Both the USA Today/Gallup and Washington Post/Pew Research surveys involve samples of both landline and mobile phones, while the CNN survey called landline phones only.
Presidents have historically seen their overall approval ratings spike in the wake of military action or national security crises, only to fade in a matter of months. We will need to wait a week or so for more surveys conducted over longer periods to know just how large the president's bin Laden bounce may be.
But there are two more interesting questions going forward. How long will the apparent improvement in the ratings of Obama's handling of terrorism and the war persists? And, more importantly, to what degree will this weekend's developments change the reality of the war in Afghanistan rather than just the perception of it?
UPDATE: A new CBS News/New York Times survey released on Wednesday shows an 11 point increase in Obama's overall job rating, up to 57 percent from 46 percent last month. The new survey used a "panel-back" methodology that recontacted respondents on May 2 and 3 that had previously been interviewed between April 28 and May 1.