skip to main content
Obama's Approval Bump Hasn't Transferred to 2012 Prospects

Obama's Approval Bump Hasn't Transferred to 2012 Prospects

Obama still running neck and neck with unnamed Republican candidate

PRINCETON, NJ -- Given a choice between Barack Obama and an unnamed Republican, 43% of registered voters say they are more likely to vote for Obama and 40% are more likely to vote for the Republican. This is essentially unchanged from April and February, when voters' preferences were evenly split.

Trend: 2012: Barack Obama vs. Generic Republican -- Based on Registered Voters

The May 5-8 Gallup poll, conducted after the death of Osama bin Laden, did not pick up the same rally effect in support for Obama's re-election as Gallup Daily tracking has found in the president's job approval rating.

The two-percentage-point increase in support for Obama's re-election over the past month, from 41% in the April 20-22 poll to 43% today, is not statistically significant. But the seven-point rise in Obama's overall job approval rating across the same two polls, from 47% to 54%, is.

The latter increase almost certainly reflects the modest rally in Americans' approval of the president after last week's announcement that U.S. military forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan. Gallup Daily tracking documented a six-point increase in Obama's overall job approval rating in three-day rolling averages before and after the May 1 announcement, from 46% to 52%. His approval rating has since stayed above 50%.

Republicans Drive Obama's Approval Rally

Gallup Daily tracking finds that Obama's approval rally has occurred most sharply among Republicans, which may be why it has not transferred to an increase in voter support for Obama in 2012 against an unnamed Republican.

Republicans' approval of Obama has more than doubled since bin Laden's death, rising to 21% the week of May 2-8 from 10% April 25-May 1. His approval rating rose less among independents, to 47% from 40%, and -- remarkably -- changed little among Democrats.

Selected Trend: President Barack Obama Job Approval

Republicans' approval of Obama has not been this high since July 2009. At that time, when 21% of Republicans approved of the job Obama was doing, approval among independents and Democrats was higher than it is today, at 51% and 88%, respectively.

The finding that independents' and Democrats' approval of Obama has not reverted to July 2009 levels may reflect their lower enthusiasm about bin Laden's death compared with Republicans'. Indeed, in Gallup's May 2 bin Laden reaction poll, fewer than half of independents (42%) and Democrats (44%), compared with 52% of Republicans, said killing bin Laden was "extremely important" for the U.S. Similarly, fewer than 6 in 10 independents (54%) and Democrats (58%), compared with 71% of Republicans, preferred killing bin Laden to capturing him.

More generally, Obama's job approval increased slightly across most demographic groups after the bin Laden announcement, including among the major gender, racial, age, education, and household income groups.

2012 Voter Preferences Unchanged by Party ID

Despite the recent surge in Republicans' approval of the job Obama is doing as president, Republican registered voters' likelihood of voting for him over an unnamed Republican for president in 2012 is virtually unchanged, now 5% -- versus 2% in April. Independent and Democratic voter preferences have also remained about the same.

2012: Barack Obama vs. Generic Republican -- Based on Registered Voters, April-May 2011 Trend

Bottom Line

Americans' higher approval of Obama after the mission against bin Laden appears largely detached from their willingness to support him for re-election in 2012. The president's approval rating rose much more over the past week among Republicans than among independents and Democrats -- perhaps reflecting Republicans' greater support for killing the al Qaeda leader -- but that has convinced few in this largely conservative voting bloc to switch sides in the 2012 general election. A rally event that drives up support for Obama among independent rather than Republican voters would seem more likely to give Obama an electoral dividend.

Survey Methods

The latest generic presidential ballot results come from a May 5-8, 2011, Gallup poll, based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,018 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the sample of 886 registered voters, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

Obama's latest weekly average approval rating is based on telephone interviews conducted as part of Gallup Daily tracking May 2-8, 2011, with a random sample of 3,572 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030