CNN Poll: Bin Laden killing gives Obama boost on terrorism & Afghanistan approval
May 3rd, 2011
12:32 PM ET
12 years ago

CNN Poll: Bin Laden killing gives Obama boost on terrorism & Afghanistan approval

Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama is seeing a boost in his poll numbers on how he's handling terrorism and the situation in Afghanistan, thanks to his Sunday announcement that Osama bin Laden has been killed, according to a new national survey.

But a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll released Tuesday also indicates no large bump in the president's overall approval rating compared to a poll taken over the weekend, but his rating has been trending upward since mid-April.

The survey was conducted Monday, one day after the president's announcement that the al Qaeda founder and leader was shot and killed by U.S. forces during a raid in Pakistan. While the poll indicates that two-thirds of the public sees bin Laden's killing as a major achievement, more than nine out of ten say the al Qaeda terrorist network will remain a threat.

Sixty-seven percent of people questioned say they approve of how Obama's handling the issue of terrorism, up seven points from January. And his approval rating on handling the situation in Afghanistan now stands at 58 percent, also up seven points.

But the poll indicates that the president's overall approval rating, now at 52 percent, is up just one point from a poll conducted Friday through Sunday; it is up four points from Obama's 48 percent approval rating in early April. All interviews in the poll taken this weekend were conducted before the announcement of bin Laden's death.

"While President Obama's rating on terrorism and on how he's handling of Afghanistan each went up seven points, his approval rating on the economy and the deficit are down three points in that same time span," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Remember that the economy is still the most important issue. When CNN last asked Americans to name their top issue last year, 52 percent said the economy was most important and only four percent chose terrorism, putting it seventh on the list."

The killing of bin Laden does appear to give the president a boost on how he's perceived. Fifty-eight percent now think the president's a strong and decisive leader, up five points from early April.

Two-thirds of people questioned say they consider the death of bin Laden as a major achievement for the United States, with 23 percent terming it a minor achievement and nine percent saying it wasn't an achievement at all.

"But nearly all Americans believe that bin Laden's death will not end the threat from al Qaeda, and the number of Americans who expect a terrorist attack in the next few weeks is at its highest level since the start of the Iraq War in 2003," adds Holland.

According to the survey, 44 percent say the U.S. is winning the war on terrorism, with only 9 percent saying the terrorists are winning and 45 percent saying neither side is winning the conflict.

Six in ten say that things are going well for the U.S. in Afghanistan, an all-time high for that question. But the poll indicates support for the war in that country has barely moved since January and two-thirds would like to see some or all U.S. troops withdrawn.

The Obama administration is deciding whether or not to release more proof that Osama bin Laden is actually dead. His body already has been buried at sea, but a U.S. government official says photos were taken of bin Laden's body after his death. Fifty-six percent say the government should release a picture of bin Laden's body.

The killing of the al Qaeda founder and leader comes just one month after Obama launched his re-election campaign. The poll indicates the number of Americans who say they plan to vote for Obama has also not budged.

"But the president does come away with one 2012 advantage - the public now perceives him as a winner. A majority of Americans now say he will win re-election in 2012; in January most thought he would lose," says Holland.

How does the president's modest bump so far in the polls compare to his predecessors?

President George W. Bush saw his approval rating jump eight points, from 55 percent to 63 percent, in the days after his December 2003 announcement that Saddam Hussein had been captured in Iraq.

"But the bounce in his approval ratings, which is the most heavily watched indicator for a president's clout, was short-lived," says Holland. "While President Bush's numbers stayed in the mid 60's through January 2004, it was down to around 50 percent by February. Saddam's capture is probably the closest historical analogy we can draw, but because it occurred so close to the start of a presidential campaign, it may not provide good guidance for the length of any bounce President Obama picks up today."

Holland notes as well that the gains Bush's father made immediately after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 also petered out just as a presidential campaign began.

"In March, 1991, the approval ratings for George H. W. Bush rose to nearly 90 percent and stayed above 50 percent for the rest of the year. When did they drop below 50 percent? In January of a presidential election year," says Holland. "The track record of both Bushes indicates that no matter how long Obama's bounce lasts, it is not likely to survive the highly-partisan environment of a presidential election."

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Monday, May 2, with 700 national adults questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

- CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

Filed under: Afghanistan • Al Qaeda • CNN poll • Osama bin Laden • Polls • President Obama
soundoff (92 Responses)
  1. Thai


    1) To be fair, the war in Afghanistan has had a less than 50% approval rating to begin with. While this accomplishment brings some closure to many, most people (though not all people) view this as a symbolic accomplishment of justice because of past actions, not something that literally has ensured our security or prevented future terrorism.

    2) People don't always judge Presidents on one issue anyway. But if there was one issue that they tend to judge Presidents on more than others, it's the economy. Not saying it SHOULD be this way, but that's how it is. The economy is improving but not enough so far to get a higher approval rating right now.

    Overall, I don't think America, as a whole, has too many double standards on judging Presidents. I think America's left wing and right wing bases do, but not so much the independents/moderates. (I know independent and moderate don't mean the same thing, but for this conversation it's appropriate to group them up this way.)

    May 3, 2011 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  2. NameJsk

    Obama will win again

    May 3, 2011 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  3. fayse

    President Obama is fighting a battle on all fronts not to mention those daggers in his back. No matter what he does, the GOP has one agenda and that is, to take back the White House. They don't care who it hurts, they don't care if the economy will suffer, they will continue to attack with lies and obstruction. The President has kept his cool and dignity. in the end, the President will prevail and he will win re election because the GOP will continue to sabotage the future of our Great Nation for their own selfish desires.

    May 3, 2011 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  4. Name Liz

    Nobama is a joke !!

    May 3, 2011 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  5. Charlie from the North

    This is not going to help him one tiny but with the knuckle dragging tea partying birther Trump crowd. They are beyond hope and I believe my President is beyond trying to appeal to them. I do think however that the mature way in which he is handling his job and the thoughtful way he speaks will cause many independents (some who voted for McCain last time) to vote for Obama. (especially when they look at what the tea party will allow the GOP to offer in 2012). The other folks who this will effect is those on the far left who think "everything the military touches turns to crap" they will have to look at the facts and realize that is not the case. The military serves an important purpose and when not misused can be quite helpful in protecting our interests and helping others. The situaation alos reminds those of us who voted for Obama why we chose him in the first place.

    May 3, 2011 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. Anthony

    Bravo. Mr. President!!!

    May 3, 2011 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  7. Changing My Mind

    I didn't really like Obama as President. I wasn't sure he had the stuff. I felt he was not experienced enough.
    I was wrong.
    Mr. President: Well Done

    May 3, 2011 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  8. Grundoon

    @John: Since the facts do not back up what you state I pressume you are in a red state. This president has gotten an incredible amount done all the while the GOP obstruction machine chruning away, the economy has improved, Bush's budget was only slightly smaller that Obama's but you repubs didn't seem to mind the massive debt that when you all had control. Oh, but NOW it's a problem. Hyopcritical much? How can you expect anyone to take you seriously when you allow yourself to be so blinded by partisanship? The rest of us don't suffer from short-term memory loss. People who want to distort facts to fit their own agenda deserve every ouce of ire directed a them.

    May 3, 2011 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    In what nation did you take this poll ?
    The United States of America. Do you know how to cure any of those social-economic woes that you cited? (some of which ARE entirely made up talking points, i.e. higher taxes, higher foreclosures, higher unemployment, and more)

    Do you buy into the conservtive line on reforming health care? That you should be to "cross state lines" and purchase health care "if it is cheaper?" I put the quotes there on purpose because that is how it is supposed to be phrased. I won't touch the "if it is cheaper" teaser line. Don't have to. Anyone can see it for what it is, a teaser.

    Note that it says "cross" and not "across". That means you must actually go there. If you order from your home, then you are purchasing within the state where your home is located.

    What makes you think that the cheaper state for your insurance will be the sate next door> Hmm?
    What makes you think that the next state over will not charge you your own home state's rate? Hmm?
    What makes you think that once you contact another state that they will actually make you an offer? Hmm?
    What makes you think that most of us cannot see through misrepresentation the conservative plan is? Hmm?

    May 3, 2011 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  10. Josh

    @davey all he did was kill at terrorist. Gas is still almost 4 a gallon, we haven't heard word one about lybia, notice? His health care bill blows, and if it is so great and wonderous how come there are over 1,000 exemptions from it. you know that i can go on and on. if you notice his polls against terrorism is good. What next it is because people are bigots they vote him down. Typical lib

    May 3, 2011 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  11. unsub

    best president ever! the more repubs critique him, the greater his chances of being re-elected!

    May 3, 2011 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  12. True To His Word - He Got Osama

    President could cure John's father, mother, wife and last remaining child [John Jr.) of Stage 4 CANCER and he [and others like him] would never give President Obama his proper respect or credit due on terrorism or Afghanistan.

    They think bluster and bravado equal courage, commitment and the competence necessary to protect the United States and it's interest. They do not. The world we live in has nuances and President Obama is smart enough, tactful enough, and adaptable enough has a chief executive to exploit those nuances to the country's benefit.

    The problem is that too many of our citizens can't digest complex nuances when it comes to government actions and we get the "bumpersticker speak" of his opponents – stuff like "Death Panels" or "Job Killing Takeover of Healthcare" or "Socialist". The Democrats need to KEEP their level of COMPETENCE in execution that is their hallmark and hire a reformed Republican to craft the "Bumpersticker-ism" that so many citizens apparently latch onto. I'll liscense the moniker of this post to the Administration for a $1.

    May 3, 2011 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  13. Nothing new here

    Thank you, Mr. President, for dealing with bin Laden once and for all.
    Thanks to our troops as well.

    And if the "economy" sucks, well, we can put some of the blame on Republicans.
    They spend too much time worryiing about people procreating (or not) than actually creating job.

    May 3, 2011 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  14. Sebastian

    It amazes me how many GOP politicians, were so begrunding in their comments yesterday about snuffing out Osama bin Laden. I think we should get to roll around in this fabulous piece of, err news, for a week before we get all doom and gloom.

    Through their party-serving comments, GOP'ers quickly wanted to remind people that al Queda was still not defeated [translation: don't give President Obama too much credit]. They wanted to water-down any public bump in the polls. They also wanted to shore up support for continued massive defense spending to help their handlers in the military-industrial complex.

    May 3, 2011 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  15. Monk

    I haven't believed any statistics I have ever read since my college statistics class, when the instructor told us that the numbers can be manipulated to say literally anything you want them to say, and proceeded to prove it to us.

    May 3, 2011 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  16. Chris

    While Obama should get praise for approving this operation, he is still one of the worst presidents this country has ever had and needs to be voted out of office next year.

    May 3, 2011 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    sorry, edit:

    "7 out of 10 where I work don't agree with this president, don’t trust this president, won’t support this president, sure, you keep asking the same question to the same people. "

    Aside from hearing some major "waaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!!!" in your post, I'm pretty sure that focal-point polling of the emlpoyees at a deep-south bible-belt psuedo-militia Klan Summer Camp would not produce a sufficiently diversified sample to be adequately representative of the populace as a whole. Put down the NRA magazines and go read a stats text book.

    May 3, 2011 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
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