In news coverage and commentary on the political fallout of the killing of Osama bin Laden, there’s been something of a sense of rage at the idiots who think this event will re-elect Barack Obama in 2012. But actually, I’ve yet to hear anyone embrace this straw man. As Nate Silver has pointed out, the commentariat may be erring in the opposite direction of dismissing this development as meaningless. And that’s not likely at all, based on the historical record:
Historically, the correlation between a president’s overall approval rating and his rating on foreign affairs is stronger than is the case with his rating on the economy. If you place the two variables into a regression equation, it finds that foreign affairs is the more important component, although both are clearly statistically significant.
Many aspects of a president’s job performance, values and priorities, character traits, and communications skills combine to influence public perceptions, and public opinion research varies in its capacity to measure it all. Single-bullet theories of what decides presidential elections, and what can be disregarded as meaningless noise, are always seductive, but usually wrong.