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Will Obama Win Now?

Does killing Osama bin Laden guarantee President Obama’s reelection? It’s hard to imagine—short of the unemployment rate magically dropping several points—a single better piece of news for Obama. It’s certainly going to be a lot harder to attack Obama for the next couple of weeks. People were dancing in the streets.

But these kinds of “rally-round-the-flag” effects don’t tend to last that long. As Nate Silver points out, the first President Bush seemed unbeatable after the Gulf War, but by November 1992 the faltering economy had pushed his approval rating down to the 30s, and Bill Clinton was able to defeat him easily. On Intrade, the price of a share of a contract that will pay out if Obama gets reelected briefly shot up. But polls so far show just a modest improvement in Obama’s numbers. And on Intrade investors now put Obama’s chance of winning reelection at 62%, up just three points than before the announcement of bin Laden’s death.

That’s probably about right. Obama’s chances of reelection are likely to hinge on the economy, not national security, and as Kevin Drum says this news doesn’t do anything to change the fundamental economic situation. If Obama’s chances in 2012 are still pretty good, it has more to do with the fact that the Republican Party continues to drift to the right and appears to be driving away the middle-of-the-road voters they will need to win a national election—and with the fact that the first Republican presidential debate will feature Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Gary Johnson, and Herman Cain.

Bin Laden’s death will help Obama in the sense that it makes him more difficult to attack on national security issues—always a vulnerability for Democrats—and allows him to worry less about fighting terrorism. And, as Nate Silver says, when your approval ratings are around 50%—as Obama’s are—a small increase could mean the difference between reelection and defeat.

Photo credit: Pete Souza

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