Asked at any point before May 1st of last year, the question above would have been ridiculous. Outside of liberal intellectuals and college students, whose idea of “restoring America’s reputation in the world” is something on the order of “surrender and tell the bad guys you want to be friends,” few would have credited the early part of the Obama Administration as a foreign policy success.
But it’s amazing what one dead bad guy and a bad economy will do to a presidency. Whether or not Obama really has a chance of parlaying one good moment into a re-election, it’s clear that his campaign is at least toying with the idea of trying to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney on foreign policy to try to distract attention from the fact that unemployment is still above neigh percent and shows no signs of dropping quickly.
So there you have it. When the economy stays bad despite pretty much your entire policy agenda being enacted, it’s time to run for plan B. And apparently for Obama, plan B is reminding America that he’s the one on whose watch Bin Laden was killed.
Will it work? Stay tuned until November to be sure, but here are some questions we can answer to try to project whether this strategy will help Obama in the long term.
- How much does foreign policy matter in this election?
The answer seems to be, “not much.”
An April Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that only three percent of voters said that foreign policy was the most important issue to them in thinking about the presidential campaign. A CNN/ORC poll conducted around the same time found that only two percent of Americans say that terrorism is the most important issue facing the country. Both polls found majorities saying that the economy was their top concern.
- How much credit does Obama get for Bin Laden’s death?
The evidence on this question seems to be equivocal. Immediately following Bin Laden’s death, approval of Obama’s handling of terrorism jumped 11 points, from 61% to 72% according to trend from AP-GfK. But within a month that rating returned to 63% and it has stayed in the low 60s since.
So Americans clearly gave Obama credit for “getting Bin Laden” but not enough to fundamentally change their impressions even of his efforts in combating terrorism.
- Did that singular event fundamentally change the way Americans view Obama’s Administration?
Here again the answer is a clear “no.” Obama did see a small job approval jump immediately after Bin Laden’s death, according to Gallup nightly tracking, but that bump quickly ebbed and today he is still stuck with almost as many Americans disapproving of the job he’s doing (46%) as approve (47%)
The bottom line is that it’s not at all clear that Obama can score a win on foreign policy. What is clear though is that even a win on the foreign policy won’t do much to help Obama win the war and retain the presidency. It is, as it so often is, still the economy, stupid.