Fighting ISIS Could Mean Higher Ratings for Obama
Policy + Politics

Fighting ISIS Could Mean Higher Ratings for Obama

With most Americans, including many Republicans, rallying to his side in the face of pressing global crises, President Obama is likely to get a bump in his approval ratings after ordering airstrikes against Islamic militants in Syria.

Obama has been telegraphing his plans to launch powerful military airstrikes against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria for weeks, and Congress authorized the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels as part of the overall strategy before departing late last week to campaign for reelection this fall.

Related: U.S. Could Spend 10 Years Eradicating ISIS

Yet the news that the U.S. had thrust itself directly into the Syrian civil war and that Saudi Arabia and four other Middle Eastern countries had entered the fray on the president’s side is certain to dominate the news for weeks and months to come. It could also improve, temporarily at least, the approval rating of the embattled commander-in-chief.

About 60 percent of Americans approve of U.S. military action against ISIS, according to the latest Gallup survey, a fairly solid majority although still slightly below their average of 68 percent for 10 other Obama military actions that Gallup has asked about in the past.

More importantly for Obama and the Democrats, however, the president’s approval rating is beginning to pick up after spending months in the 40-percent range. According to Gallup’s most recent three-day average, the president’s approval rating now stands at 44 percent. That contrasts with a weekly average of 43 percent Sept.15-21, 41 percent Sept. 8 to 14, and 40 percent Sept. 1-7.

“It’s certainly possible the president will get a bump from this and it looks like it may be happening because his rating is a bit higher than we’ve seen before,” Jeff Jones, managing editor of the Gallup Poll, said in an interview Tuesday. “We want to let it play out a few more days and see if it sustains itself, as opposed to being something really temporary.”

Related: Why We Won’t Have Enough Money to Fight ISIS

“Now that we’re in Syria as well as Iraq, maybe as we get more reports of potential U.S. successes, maybe we might see [Obama’s approval rating] go even a bit higher,” Jones added.

The latest Gallup survey was conducted before Monday night’s announcement that the U.S. and several Middle Eastern allies had launched airstrikes in Syria against ISIS and Khorasan, a relatively new terrorist group that has designs on attacking the U.S. 

After months of uncertainty over how to handle ISIS and the Syrian civil war, Obama looked very much in charge Tuesday morning. He addressed reporters about the attacks before departing for a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where he conferred with allies about the war effort, then later made an appearance at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Presidents often experience soaring ratings during times of national crisis or war. President George W. Bush began his presidency with ratings near 50 percent. But after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the U.S., his approval ratings jumped and peaked at 92 percent before gradually diminishing. By early 2006 – with the country souring on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the economy worsening – Bush’s average rating was near 40 percent, and in July 2008 one poll showed him at a rock-bottom 22 percent approval rating.

Related: The Three Hottest Issues Dominating the Midterm Elections   

Obama’s approval rating averaged 50 percent for much of May 2011 after U.S. forces killed 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. But then his approval rating dropped to 46 percent in a development that coincided with a rise in Americans’ pessimism about the economy.

The president’s lowly approval ratings this year have hurt the Democrats’ prospects for retaining control of the Senate in the Nov. 4 elections. Not surprisingly, many Democrats seeking reelection or challenging Republicans have distanced themselves from Obama and his policies.

With roughly five weeks to go before the election, a sudden surge in presidential popularity may make a difference in a handful of close races in states including Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa and North Carolina that could determine the outcome of the election.

Jeff Jones from Gallup noted that Obama’s attacks on ISIS might prove to be “pretty good timing in terms of the election. It looks like the military campaign is going to be somewhat sustained, and if it demonstrates success in weakening ISIS, that could definitely help Democrats in the election.”

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