So does the killing of Osama bin Laden help Barack Obama’s reelection chances? I doubt it. I’m not an economic fundamentalist when it comes to presidential elections — too many people read those economic models and forget the part where the authors explain that their model only explains about two-thirds of the variance — but it’s still the case that economic conditions account for most of a president’s chances of reelection. What’s more, the election is still 18 months away. Even if bin Laden’s death could play a role, there’s no way it would continue to have much impact a year and a half from now.
But there are at least two ways in which bin Laden’s death could still make a difference. First, the quality of opposition matters, and GOP contenders are making their campaign decisions now, not 18 months from now. It’s possible that yesterday’s news will tip a few high-quality candidates against running in 2012, and this would obviously make Obama’s job easier.
The other way it could matter is a bit more subtle: bin Laden’s death could, conceivably, lead to changes in U.S. foreign policy that make Obama’s reelection more likely. Perhaps we’ll now feel free to take a harder line with Pakistan. Perhaps Obama will be more aggressive about drawing down troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps al-Qaeda really will disintegrate somewhat after bin Laden’s death and this will lead to further U.S. victories closer to the election.
Obviously this is all very speculative. But I guess that’s what blogs are for. So feel free to speculate away in comments.