Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sarah Palin: Tease, Tactical Genius…Or Something Else?

Is she running, or not?  As her reportedly quite flattering campaign biopic “The Undefeated” is set to screen tonight in Iowa, pundits are of two minds regarding Sarah Palin’s intentions.  Critics continue to argue that she is teasing the media and the public to bolster her public profile as a means of making money, but has no real intention of making a serious run for the presidency.  They point out that she has little in the way of a campaign organization in key states, seems not to be interested in cultivating important party leaders, positively revels in antagonizing the mainstream media, and generally seems intent on violating all the conventional rules for running for president.  Most recently, she apparently has done little outreach to leading Iowan politicians in advance of her stop there today to watch the unveiling of the biopic.

But others argue that critics are wrong to judge her campaign by conventional standards.  While the pundits apply yesterday’s standards to today’s campaigns, Palin – beginning with her first decision to step down as Alaskan governor – has been consistently ahead of the pack in grasping the realities of running for office in the internet-based, social networking age of media communications.  Her recent bus tour of historic American sites, which kicked off at the end of May for a month-long trip up East Coast, is the latest manifestation of her ability to maintain media coverage while simultaneously ignoring the mainstream media, much to their chagrin. She has coupled these media-savvy excursions with extensive reliance on social networks sites to keep her supporters apprised of her plans. So far, that strategy has worked to keep her name in the limelight. A study cited in indicates “Palin continues to be a bigger magnet for online pageviews than the other announced- and potential-Republican presidential hopefuls.”  Moreover, that unconventional strategy has paid monetary dividends, as this revealing study by Adam Bonica and Kevin Collins indicates (via John Sides at the MonkeyCage).


The top figure shows the proportion of funds raised by Republican candidates from donations of $500 or less (the y-axis – this includes unitemized contributions) against candidate ideology (the x-axis).  The bottom figure shows the relationship between conservatism and small donations more generally. Their point is that the more conservative candidates generally raise a greater proportion of their funds from small donors.  Some of you will recall that in 2008 the media gushed over candidate Barack Obama’s ability to raise money from small donors, which they saw as evidence that he was attracting support from presumably less-partisan individuals who normally wouldn’t contribute to campaigns.  As my colleague Bert Johnson has shown in his research, and as this chart supports (assuming contributors send money to like-minded candidates), that claim was nonsense; small donations typically come from the most partisan and ideologically extreme portion of the electorate, not from the less political moderate middle. (The circle sizes are proportional to the Intrade share prices for the respective candidates as of June 13th, with those who have formally announced in red, and those not yet to announce in purple. Green signifies the individual is not running.)

For my purpose, however, the most important point is that among all the candidates, Palin has relied most heavily on small donations, with over 80% of her contributions falling into this category.  Perception-wise, then, she is the Obama of 2012 (although in fact Obama did not raise an unusually large proportion of money through small donations, media stories to the contrary notwithstanding.)

So, is she running?  As long-time readers know, I have long maintained that she is, and that she will continue to do so, until something (a drop in funding, consistently bad polling, family objections, or electoral defeat) persuades her to stop.  If I am right, why does she not emulate the other candidates, and do the traditional things like putting together the seemingly requisite on-the-ground campaign infrastructure in key states?  The answer, I think, is she is doing what lots of working mothers with newborns do: trying to juggle competing priorities without skimping on any of them. In short, she’s campaigning on the cheap.  By relying on social networking and media-centered events, most recently with the unveiling of her biopic in Iowa, she’s gambling that she can stay in the race without running a traditional campaign.  The non-declared candidacy has additional payoffs: she can keep her day job as a Fox commentator and avoid campaign restrictions on how she spends her money. My guess is she will continue with this tactic as long as possible. And why not?  It’s not the first time she has adopted an unorthodox tactic that turned out to pay huge dividends.  To date, she has proved more astute than the pundits when it comes to campaign strategy.  Even the recent release of her emails confounded her critics, as they reportedly revealed no Couric-style gaffes.  Instead, she came across as a focused, hands-on and a quite competent chief executive. (And, at least according to one report, the emails demonstrated a level of writing skill that could put college students’ writing to shame!  Full disclosure: I base this on media reports; I’ve read only a handful of the emails.)

In 1976 Jimmy Carter, a little-known Governor from Georgia dubbed “Jimmy Who?”, stunned the pundits by capturing the Democratic primary and going on to win the presidency. He did so by taking advantage of the new nominating system that had developed in the wake of nominating reforms instigated by the Democrats.  While the party frontrunners like Scoop Jackson prepared to do battle in the big-ticket primary states, Carter went all out in Iowa and New Hampshire, using early victories there (he actually finished second in Iowa to the “uncommitted slate”) to create the perception of campaign momentum.  The key to his success was recognizing the realities of the new campaign system.  But it was also a strategy dictated by his own weakness – as a relatively unknown candidate, he really couldn’t afford to adopt a conventional strategy and go toe-to-toe with better known-candidates in the bigger states.  (In the same vein, necessity is what dictated Obama’s decision to compete in caucuses in 2008).

A similar logic, but based on different reasons, I think, is governing Palin’s campaign strategy.  As a working mom balancing equally important priorities, she is running the only way she can.  So far, it happens to be working.  At some point, however, she will have to decide whether to take the formal plunge.  Until she does, Palin will remain the 120-pound moose in the room.

Is Bachmann a Flake, or Wallace a Pig?

You saw this coming – but perhaps not quite like this.  Fresh off her highly-praised performance in the most recent New Hampshire debate, and with the most recent Iowa poll showing her leading the pack, in a statistical dead heat with Mitt Romney among likely Republican caucus voters, Michele Bachmann has vaulted into the top tier of Republican candidates – at least in the mainstream media’s latest perceptions.  Never mind that a poll this early in the process is essentially meaningless.  Forget that Bachmann’s high reviews in the New Hampshire debate partly reflect the media’s low expectations for her performance.  As a perceived frontrunner, the media has determined that it is time to take the gloves off with the Bachmann candidacy.  Fox News host Chris Wallace was only too happy to oblige in today’s interview with Bachmann on his interview show.  In so doing, he may have inadvertently revealed a bigger obstacle to Bachmann’s chances of winning than her misstatements or conservative views. You can view the full video of the Wallace-Bachmann exchange here:

If you watched the video, you can see that Wallace focused largely on concerns – earmarks, gay marriage, the 10th amendment that, while certainly important, most voters will see as peripheral to the main issues driving this election: resuscitating the economy, creating jobs,  and dealing with terrorism.  To his credit, Wallace did ask some issued-based questions, most notably in pressing Bachmann on her support for Paul Ryan’s budget plan. But he also spent an inordinate amount of time discussing campaign strategy in the guise of candidate comparisons, and finished with a gratuitous, even insulting (and some might say gender-driven) shot at Bachmann’s temperament.   That final exchange is worth printing in full:.

“WALLACE: Finally, let’s talk about Michele Bachmann because — and you say — it’s interesting. You say that the people saw in the debate and saw you as a serious person. I don’t have to tell you that you have — the rap on you here in Washington is that you have a history of questionable statements, some would say gaffes, ranging from — talking about anti-America members of Congress — on this show — a couple of months ago, when you suggested that NATO airstrikes had killed up to 30,000 civilians.

Are you a flake?”

Excuse me?  Did he just ask a member of Congress whether she is a “flake”?  Amazingly, Bachmann held back from punching Wallace in the nose, and instead responded with great restraint:

“BACHMANN: Well, I think that would be insulting, to say something like that, because I’m a serious person.

WALLACE: But you understand when I say that, that that’s what the rap on you is?

BACHMANN: Well, I would say is that I am 55 years old. I’ve been married 33 years. I’m not only a lawyer, I have a post doctorate degree in federal tax law from William and Mary. I work in serious scholarship and work in the United States federal tax court.

My husband and I raised five kids. We’ve raised 23 foster children. We’ve applied ourselves to education reform. We started a charter school for at-risk kids.

I’ve also been a state senator and a member of United States Congress for five years. I’ve been very active in our business.

As a job creator, I understand job creation. But also I’ve been leading actively the movement in Washington, D.C., with those who are affiliated with fiscal reform.

WALLACE: Do you — do you — and I think it’s important to say that. But do you recognize that now that you’re in the spotlight, in a way that you weren’t before, that you have to be careful and not say what some regard as flaky things?”

One has to wonder – and I’m looking for reaction from you – whether Wallace would ever dare ask a male candidate, one with Bachmann’s experience and credentials, this question?   And if so, would the male candidate have responded by punching Wallace in the nose?   As it was, Bachmann showed remarkable poise in not taking the bait. But the exchange drives home one point, and raises a second.  First, part of the media vetting process will include the development of a candidate stereotype, based on simplified, often exaggerated readings of candidates’ comments and actions that, once established, will be very hard for the candidate to shake. Think of Palin the dumb beauty queen, or George W. Bush, the amiable frat boy, or John McCain, the tightly-wound ex-POW, or Bill Clinton, the womanizing bubba policy wonk.

But the Bachmann interview raises a deeper issue, one that I don’t think was fully addressed in 2008 because it was overshadowed by the debate regarding whether an African-American could win election: are women held to a different standard when it comes to running for the presidency?  Look again at Wallace’s last question to Bachmann – you would hardly know he’s talking to a woman who served six years in the Minnesota state senate and is in her third term in the House.  In the last election cycle she outraised every other House incumbent.  This follows on the heels of the Hillary-the-(rhymes-with-witch) stereotype that periodically cropped up during the 2008 campaign. (Obama famously noted that she was “likable enough” – a remark that some say galvanized women voters and cost him the New Hampshire primary) and, of course, the media-pummeling inflicted on Palin.  Don’t get me wrong. Bachmann deserves to be grilled, and held accountable for misstatements.  As Wallace somewhat gratuitously reminded Bachmann, she’s in the spotlight now.  But one has to wonder, particularly after the Palin media contretemps, whether the main stream media holds women up to a different, and perhaps more stringent standard?   I don’t pretend to have an answer, but it’s a question well worth asking.


The Grand Old President’s Afghan Strategy: He Marched Them Up The Hill…

How predictable was President Obama’s primetime announcement last Wednesday that the U.S. will begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan, starting with a 10,000 troop reduction by the end of this year?  Last January, and again this past May, I tasked students in two different classes to simulate the decision process Obama would likely employ in deciding what steps to take in Afghanistan as the July draw-down date drew nigh.  In both classes, the student playing Obama, after listening to his “advisers” push a variety of policy options, ranging from an extended military commitment with a troop increase to a complete and immediate troop withdrawal, came to almost the same decision as did the real President.  In choosing to split the difference between his more “hawkish” and “dovish” advisers, of course, my students played Obama true to form; he is not one to adopt extreme measures from either side of the political spectrum.  Instead, Wednesday’s decision hewed closely to the strategy Obama outlined when he first announced the surge in December, 2009:  a limited U.S. escalation designed to buy time for Afghan forces so that they might develop the capacity to take over the nation’s security.  In announcing the phased troop withdrawal, Obama is gambling that his strategy has worked.  Only time will tell.

Equally predictably, both Republicans and Democrats voiced displeasure with Obama’s decision for a slow drawdown. Progressive Democrats are disappointed that Obama did not use Bin Laden’s death as a catalyst for accelerating the U.S. withdrawal timetable.  They point out that under Obama’s announced schedule, only 33,000 troops will be withdrawn by the end of next summer and U.S. military forces will remain in Afghanistan until 2014.  This means some 70,000 troops will still be in Afghanistan by this time next year – more than twice the 32,000 troops Obama inherited from Bush when he took office.  This is not the change for which Obama’s progressive supporters had hoped.

Neither did Obama’s decision sit well with his military advisers, who reportedly warned the President that the gains resulting from the recent troop surge are fragile, and easily reversed in the event of an American withdrawal.  The most strident criticism, however, came from Republicans who chastised Obama for ending the surge by the end of next summer, before the conclusion of the traditional “fighting season” which lasts another 3-4 months.  They openly wondered why Obama did not accept his generals’ advice to allow the “surge” to have its full impact by extending it until the end of 2012.

If the carping from the partisan extremes was predictable, so too was Obama’s decision to choose a strategy that largely ignored both.  By ending the surge early, in military terms, Obama will be able to cite the troop drawdown during the 2012 election campaign, rather than waiting until after the election as his military commanders advised. And that is the key to understanding the timing and substance of Obama’s announcement Wednesday night.  He is in the middle of an election campaign whose outcome will largely turn on independent voters. In an earlier post, I noted that the post-Bin Laden killing “bump” in Obama’s approval had, as predicted, almost entirely dissipated scarcely a month later.  But notice where Obama has lost the most crucial support, as revealed by this Gallup Poll taken from June 6-12:

Democrats remain strongly behind Obama, at levels close to what they were before Bin Laden was killed.  Republicans remain almost solidly against the President, although Obama is still polling 5% higher among them than before Bin Laden’s assassination. But among independents, Obama has dropped 5% from the post-Bin Laden high, back close to where he was before Bin Laden’s death.  As foreign policy recedes from the news, and the focus returns to the economy, support among independents is likely to weaken still more.  Clearly, if he is to win reelection, Obama must stem the erosion in support among this group.

Equally ominous, Obama’s support is the lowest among the two age groups who are most likely to vote in 2012.

Gallup shows that the post-Bin Laden “bump” has disappeared among voters aged 50 or more, although it lingers among those younger than 50.  It remains to be seen whether Obama’s announcement of a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan will mollify this older cohort.  I suspect it will not, primarily because this group is largely focused on the economy, health care and entitlement reform.

At this point, some 17 months before standing for reelection, there was never much chance that Obama would use Bin Laden’s death to radically alter his Afghan strategy in the way progressives had hoped.  But neither was he likely to follow his military commanders’ advice to see the surge through to at least the end of next year’s fighting season. Purists will carp at this injection of election politics into military strategy, but the reality is that the two cannot be separated.  Presidents are not simply the commander in chief – they are elected officials as well, whose ability to achieve policy goals depends first and foremost on remaining in office.

In rejecting the advice from the partisan purists at both ends of the political spectrum,  Obama emulated the Grand Old Duke of York who faced a similar policy dilemma, and responded much as Obama did, as this traditional children’s nursery rhyme, slightly edited for modern sensibilities, makes clear:

“Oh, the Grand Old President

He had thirty thousand men;

He marched them off to Afghanistan

And he brought them home again

And when they were there, they were there,

And when they were home, they were home,

And when they were only half-way home,

They were neither here nor there.”

Let’s hope Humpty Dumpty is not next in the policy briefing book.

Who Won Monday’s Republican Debate? The Media!

As some of you may have heard, the Republicans held a debate in New Hampshire, at St. Anselm’s College, this past Monday (transcript here.)  It was the first of many to come in that state and across the nation more generally. Seven Republicans attended, including most of the “frontrunners” (with the conspicuous exception of Sarah Palin as well as Jon Huntsman). At this point, seven months before the New Hampshire primary, most voters in that state were likely not paying much attention.  But this does not mean these early debates aren’t important.  They are, because they provide a window into how the media, aided by a media-selected cadre of  party “insiders” and reputed “experts” (full disclosure – I occupy a peripheral spot in the “expert” clique), will begin winnowing the field of potential candidates during the coming weeks into a more manageable number.  During this period – which some have dubbed the “invisible primary” – the media will use these debates to help develop a narrative about the coming election.  That narrative will include a preliminary “ranking” of the candidates that is critical for establishing the various thresholds each candidate must meet to maintain “viability” – a crucial element in their ability to raise money.  Whether in print or on the air, there is only so much room in the overall media narrative, and thus reporters try very hard to cull the weaker candidates from the field.  They do so in part by focusing on candidates’ tactical errors or other gaffes that might serve as a pretext for relegating the candidate to second tier status or worse – disqualifying them altogether. Once cast into the equivalent of candidate purgatory, it becomes almost impossible for a candidate to climb out, in part because fundraising dries up and because media rankings that start out fluid soon begin to ossify.  So candidates try very hard in this invisible primary period to both separate themselves from the pack and to avoid making statements or tactical decisions that can be construed by the media as “mistakes”.

The interesting aspect of this exercise is determining what “gaffes” the media will latch onto. Some are easy to predict.  For example, in the days before the debate, Newt Gingrich’s top staff resigned, sparking a series of stories speculating that his candidacy was fatally wounded and that he would likely drop out.  Never mind that this type of staff reshuffling is not unusual (see Ford in 1976, Reagan in 1980 and McCain in 2008) and that it occurred very very early in the race – the media vultures were already circling Newt’s candidacy. Some of the “missteps” they cite, however, are more subtle. In Monday’s debate, for example, Tim Pawlenty was criticized for not following up on his earlier remarks citing Romney’s Massachusetts’ health care plan as the model for Obama’s national health reform plan – a comparison Pawlenty summarized earlier on Fox News with the term “Obamneycare”.  When given the opportunity on Monday to expound on this point, with Romney standing next to him, Pawlenty demurred. The media, citing the usual Republican “strategists” and “operatives” deemed this a mistake, as captured in a Politico story that led with: “Tim Pawlenty’s puzzling decision at Monday’s debate to abandon a new line of attack on Mitt Romney’s health care record is prompting fresh doubts among members of his own party about his readiness to confront the GOP frontrunner.”   Notice the language here – a “puzzling decision” that prompted “fresh doubts” about Pawlenty’s “readiness.”  Really?  Puzzling to whom?  Why, to the media, as gleaned from their “expert” sources –who wanted Pawlenty to aggressively challenge Romney, thus generating a better story. And who has “fresh doubts” – again, it is the media along with the “experts”, which is already generating a narrative suggesting Pawlenty is too “nice” and not “battle tested.”

At the other extreme, Michele Bachmann bolstered her candidacy on Monday – or so the media proclaimed. In a USAToday article titled “Debate Showing Elevates Bachmann to Higher Tier”, Jackie Kucinich wrote, “On a crowded stage, Bachmann was lively, confident, personable — she managed to mention her 23 foster children three times — and unremittingly critical of President Obama‘s policies from health care to Libya. Against other contenders with longer resumes and more experience, she emerged from the pack in way that is likely to make it easier for her to raise money, attract grass-roots support — and even emerge as a Tea Party favorite to rival Sarah Palin.”

In short, Bachmann beat media expectations, and thus elevated her stature in the race – not so much because of her policy stances or experience, but because she was aggressive, confident and on the attack. In the words of one pundit:  “She wasn’t flustered, she didn’t say anything silly, she had some funny lines.”  Not getting flustered, being funny and avoiding mistakes is a low bar indeed, but because she cleared it, she was deemed a “winner” by the media. Moreover, Bachmann meets the other media viability criteria – she has been a prodigious fundraiser, raising more money than any other House incumbent. Finally, there is a backstory that makes the Bachmann candidacy newsworthy – she is threatening to fill the void left by Palin’s absence in the race and is therefore in some sense a Palin “rival”.

Mitt Romney, meanwhile – the purported frontrunner based on early polls – “won” by showing up, not making mistakes, and leaving relatively unscathed, as his rivals directed more of their ire at President Obama.  How do the media know this? Because they surveyed 91 Democrat and Republican “insiders”, that’s why, and a plurality of them narrowly chose Romney as the winner.  That same group praised Bachmann’s performance while panning Pawlenty.   Of course, now that Bachmann’s profile has been raised, the bar will be set higher for her in the next debate.

And so it goes for each of the candidates, as the media, aided and abetted by the often unnamed party strategists who have their own interests in this race, tries to slot them into the prevailing election narrative. That narrative will be dominated by a horserace motif – the unlucky candidates will “fail to gain traction”, or see “momentum slipping”, while the favored few will be “leading the pack”.   The rest will be “struggling to break out of the pack.”  Of course, the focus on the horserace underplays the real story from Monday’s debate: no matter who wins the Republican nomination, that candidate will frame this election as a referendum on Obama’s leadership during a period of anemic economic growth. Indeed, despite the obligatory questions regarding social issues, and some discussion of foreign policy, what was most noteworthy was how much the candidates agreed on what they see as the central issue driving the vote in 2012: that Obama’s policies had prolonged the period of economic stagnation, and that the solution involved some combination of policies designed to scale back government and encourage job creation.  The critical question to be answered is how many voters agree.

And they are off!

Bin Laden’s Death: A Political Turning Point?

It has only been little more than a month since the daring raid that led to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, but already the impact of that successful mission on the public’s evaluation of President Obama is beginning to recede, replaced once again by concerns regarding the stalled economy. This is not unexpected, as I explain below, but it does belie the more optimistic predictions by some pundits in the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden’s death that it was a potential turning point not just in the War on Terror, but for Obama’s presidency as well.  Thus Jon Alter, while acknowledging that the long-term impact of Bin Laden’s killing remained uncertain, wrote, “But this feels like a turning point, if not for the world then at least for our sense of ourselves.” Comparing the event to the killing of Japanese fleet admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during World War II, he concluded his column on a hopeful note, “[W]e should see the veil of fear and bitterness that has afflicted us for the last decade begin to lift. The old can-do competence that beat the Depression and won World War II isn’t dead yet. Happier days may be here again.” Other pundits noted that Obama’s cool-headed decision to go ahead with the mission put to rest any idea that he was not a strong leader. As the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne put it: “Barack Obama is not the man many Americans thought he was. This sudden realization has transformed American politics. The sheer audacity of the successful operation against Osama Bin Laden has forced Obama’s friends and foes alike to reassess what they make of a chief executive who defies easy categorization and reveals less about himself than politicians are typically drawn to do. He has now proved that he can be bold at an operational level, even as he remains cautious at a philosophical level. His proclivity to gather facts and weigh alternatives does not lead automatically, in the venerable phrase, to the paralysis of analysis. It can also end in daring action tempered by prudence … .”

To support these optimistic projections, pundits cited the huge jump in Obama’s public approval in polls taken after Bin Laden’s death; for example, a Washington Post/ABC poll in May gave Obama 56 percent approval – a figure nine points higher than the previous month’s rate, and the highest approval rating for Obama since 2009. The WaPo poll also indicated a boost in approval of Obama’s handling of the Afghan war to 60 percent, and on terrorism, where Obama recorded “a career high of 69 percent”.  Other polls indicated similar jumps in Obama’s public standing.

These dramatically higher approval ratings led many commentators to suggest that Bin Laden’s death provided an opportunity for Obama to reframe or even reverse the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan. Indeed, some pundits suggested that Obama should campaign for reelection as a “foreign policy” president. By taking a page from George Bush’s 2004 campaign playbook, they argued, Obama could turn long-held perceptions of Democrats as weak on foreign policy on their head, as well as capitalizing on the lack of foreign policy experience among most of his Republican rivals.

These recommendations, however, were based on overly rosy expectations. Indeed, (as my unfortunate students will recall me telling them) the impact of Bin Laden’s death on Obama’s presidency was never likely to be as large as his supporters hoped. Consider Obama’s approval ratings. The latest RealClear Politics composite poll indicates that Obama’s approval/disapproval figure stands at 47.6% /46.6%, down from the post-Bin Laden high in the May 26 composite poll of 52.5/42.6%.  The current rating almost exactly matches Obama’s popularity in the polls taken immediately before the Bin Laden assassination, indicating that the effect of his killing on popular sentiments has largely dissipated. (See also the poll, which is less sensitive to more recent surveys and thus suggests a higher approval rating for Obama.)  The decline from the high of 10% to today’s 1% in Obama’s approval-disapproval gap should surprise no one.  Previous studies, such as one by Paul Brace and Barbara Hinckley, have found that so-called “rally events” involving the use of American military force boost a president’s popularity, on average, by about 6% in the first month and by approximately 5% over four months. By the fifth month after the rally event, the effect typically has disappeared. If anything, then, the Bin Laden “bounce” has proved even more transitory than the historically “average” rally event.

Nor does it appear that Bin Laden’s death has led to a significant reframing of the Afghan war. Defense Secretary Gates recently returned from a tour of Afghanistan to recommend against deep cuts in the U.S. military involvement there, a recommendation that General David Petraeus is expect to endorse when meeting with Obama prior to the July 1 troop draw-down deadline.  Meanwhile, CIA director and soon-to-be Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently testified before Congress that the Iraqi government is, not surprisingly, going to ask the U.S. to extend its military stay in that country.  Under an agreement first negotiated by George W. Bush, Obama has pledged to remove the roughly 47,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of this year, but as I have noted many times in previous posts, this will almost certainly not happen.

My point here is not to diminish the substantive impact of Obama’s bold decision to order the strike on Bin Laden.  Beyond the satisfaction of killing the architect of the 9-11 attacks, it is quite possible that the intelligence gathered in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid will – and perhaps already has – provide[d] a significant boost to the War on Terror.  Instead, I want to take issue with those who suggest that Bin Laden’s assassination significantly altered the political context of Obama’s presidency. This was unlikely for two reasons. To begin, political science studies show that, rally events notwithstanding, on average, extended U.S. military involvement overseas has negative effects on a president’s domestic standing (see, for example, the Brace and Hinckley study).  As evidence, witness the slow decline in George Bush’s popularity after the initial boost he received from 9-11 – a decline attributable in part to growing dissatisfaction with the Iraq war and the lack of progress in Afghanistan.  (This is partly why I have long argued that presidents are not more powerful in the foreign policy realm, a point I will take up in a separate post.)

More importantly, all signs indicate that the overriding issue driving the 2012 election will be voters’ perceptions regarding job growth and the economy.  Campaigning as a “foreign policy” president will thus hurt Obama in two respects: it will remind voters that we remain deeply involved in two largely unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it will suggest that he is not sufficiently focused on the fundamental issue of concern to most Americans.

Bin Laden is dead. So too should be any notion that his death will reshape the political contours of Obama’s presidency.