Barack Obama’s popular support has seen a slow, steady decline for a while now. This isn’t all that unusual for a sitting President. The question is, though, will the killing of Osama Bin Laden affect this trend?

440px Official portrait of Barack Obama 1 2

There are a few important things that generally are true about Presidential support, regardless of who is in office. First, in virtually all cases (since polling on this subject began), presidents begin their term with what is called a honeymoon period. This begins soon after Election Day and lasts until late spring or summer. During this time, Americans rally around the newly elected executive. An interesting feature of this is that when polling is done a few weeks after the election, and people are asked who they voted for, the winner finds that a much higher percentage of people claim that they cast their ballots for him than actually did.

Then, after this honeymoon, his support slowly decreases. That this happened with Obama, then isn’t particularly unusual. This is caused by a number of things. As contentious issues arise, individuals begin drifting off in their support. I’d guess that the first ones to drift away were those in the last paragraph, who only thought that they voted for him. Then as particular issues pick off supporters, less and less people remain behind him. If nothing happens to affect this trend, it continues until the next presidential campaign begins. Then, people look at the presidential not as an option between anyone who could hold the job, but compares the two actual candidates. So, for example, some Democrats who have been drifting from Obama have been saying, ‘if only Hillary were elected, times would be better.’ But, next fall, they are apt to move back into the Obama support column.

Two things can happen to affect this. One is called a secular (or long-term) change. Almost always, this is based upon the economy. If the economy does worse than people anticipated, the rate of support decline will accelerate; if the economy does better, though, the slope actually changes direction, moving upward rather than sliding downhill. This has been what many Republicans have been concerned about since the economy was in such horrible straits when Obama took office, and has pretty much languished in this range during his time in office.

The other thing that can affect a president’s popularity is when one incident, such as the killing of OBL, occurs. This event is known as a punctuated equilibrium. For those who understand science (not me, obviously), the term began in that field and referred to when one thing happened that in itself had a long-term affect. So, for example, if a meteor struck and killed off all of the dinosaurs, that is a punctuated equilibrium event. Well, in politics, this happens, too. Perhaps the biggest event like this was 9-11. President Bush’s popularity went from around 50% to around 90% in one day. Generally, though, a president might find his support increasing by anywhere from 5 to 20% because of one particular event. I’d guess that the OBL event will be in the upper range of this, so I’d predict that Obama will find his support moving into the 55% to 60% area.

Then what? The interesting feature of presidential support is that the previous rate of decline in effect prior to the event usually goes back into effect after the event. So, any increase in Obama’s support will begin to be reduced again. In Bush’s case, by the time of the 2004 election, his approval rating had returned to the 50% range. I assume that, even if my guess is correct for Obama’s support increase, by the end of the year, it will return to a more normal level by then.

(Sorry, dear readers. I didn’t realize that this issue was covered by a much better writer than myself yesterday. I was grading papers all night, and didn’t go on the internet until I had written this. Hopefully, our thoughtful readers will glean some slight information from this that Andy didn’t provide. My apologies to you, Andy.)