A CBS/New York Times poll conducted over the last two nights (and so entirely after the bin Laden news) and released today shows a significant bump in President Obama’s overall approval rating, up to 57 percent, from 46 percent in the last such poll (taken two weeks ago)—a level not seen in these polls since the summer of 2009, before the Obamacare fight really got going. As you might imagine, the bump reflects increased approval of the president’s handling of foreign policy (up to 52 percent from 39 percent two weeks ago) and the threat of terrorism (up to 72 percent, not clear from what as the question was not asked in recent CBS/Times polls). But public views about Obama’s handling of the economic issues that remain foremost on people’s minds have not improved. In fact, approval for his handling of the economy is down to 34 percent in this poll, the lowest level recorded in these CBS/Times polls since he took office.
If the top-line number comes to be reflected in other polling in the coming days, the administration will have good reason to be very pleased with the political implications of the bin Laden killing. But if the economic number holds too, it would suggest their situation is very weak. For a Democratic president, approval on the economy is far more important than approval on foreign or defense policy. These results suggest that when it comes to the issue on which Democrats can only hope to be seen as no weaker than Republicans—foreign policy and the war—Obama may well be seen as no weaker than a Republican at the moment. On the economic issues that Democrats have to dominate in order to succeed, he has the confidence of just a third of the public.