Polls find Obama’s approval at 60 percent

Posted May 11, 2011, at 10:14 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Was the U.S. right to kill Osama bin Laden? Absolutely, and about time, Americans say. A new Associated Press-GfK poll shows the nation supporting the raid with rare unanimity, and the glow from the operation is boosting approval for President Barack Obama’s handling of terrorism and the war in Afghanistan.

Few events have sparked such soaring approval from the nation, and almost nothing has since George W. Bush’s handling of the U.S. campaign against terrorism in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Enthusiasm for the risky raid after its success has given Obama some of his highest marks since early in his presidency, and more than half of Americans now say he deserves to be re-elected.

At the same time, many say bin Laden’s death has increased the threat of terrorism against America.

The death, after nearly a decade-long hunt, of the man blamed for killing thousands of Americans also appeared to help boost Americans’ optimism in areas that would seem to have little connection to bin Laden, terrorism or national security.

More Americans — 45 percent, up from 35 percent in March — say the country is headed in the right direction. Still, about half — 52 percent — say things are heading the wrong way, reflecting the effect of more polarizing domestic issues such as the economy, federal budget deficit and health care overhaul.

Obama’s approval rating has hit its highest point in two years — 60 percent — and more than half of Americans now say he deserves to be re-elected.

In worrisome signs for Republicans, the president’s standing improved not just on foreign policy but also on the economy, and independents — a key voting bloc in the November 2012 presidential election — caused the overall uptick in support by sliding back to Obama after fleeing for much of the past two years.

Comfortable majorities of the public now call Obama a strong leader who will keep America safe. Nearly three-fourths — 73 percent — also now say they are confident that Obama can effectively handle terrorist threats. And he improved his standing on Afghanistan, Iraq and the United States’ relationships with other countries.

Despite a sluggish recovery from the Great Recession, 52 percent of Americans now approve of Obama’s stewardship of the economy, giving him his best rating on that issue since the early days of his presidency; 52 percent also now like how he’s handling the nation’s stubbornly high 9 percent unemployment.

Among the poll’s findings:

— Sixty-nine percent say Obama will keep America safe, up from 61 percent in March; 65 percent call him a “strong leader,” up from 57 percent.

— Sixty-three percent say Obama cares about people like them; 63 percent also say that he understands the problems of ordinary Americans.

— Sixty-three percent view Obama favorably, up from 59 percent in March.

—Nearly two-thirds of people — 61 percent — disapprove of Obama’s handling on gas prices, even though there’s little a president can do about them.

—Less than half give him positive marks on dealing with the federal budget deficit or taxes, two big upcoming issues.

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