NYT: Obama Nabbing Osama: 'Glow of National Pride;' Bush's Capture of Saddam 'Momentarily' Halted 'Spiral of Concern'

President Bush received a short-term boost in New York Times polling when Saddam Hussein was captured in December 2003, his job approval rating rising to 58% from 50%, while the assassination of Osama bin Laden similarly benefitted President Obama in yesterday's NYT/CBS News poll, 57% to 46%. Yet it was Obama who got the warmer initial greeting on the Times' front page.

The first three paragraphs from Thursday's Page One story by James Dao and Dalia Sussman, "Bin Laden Gives President Big Lift in Poll."

Support for President Obama rose sharply after the killing of Osama bin Laden, with a majority now approving of his overall job performance, as well as his handling of foreign policy, the war in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The glow of national pride seemed to rise above partisan politics, as support for the president rose significantly among both Republicans and independents. In all, 57 percent said they now approved of the president's job performance, up from 46 percent last month.

But euphoria was tempered by a sense of foreboding: more than six in 10 Americans said that killing Bin Laden was likely to increase the threat of terrorism against the United States in the short term. A large majority also said that the Qaeda leader's death did not make them feel any safer. Just 16 percent said they personally felt more safe now.

By contrast, the first two paragraphs of the story by Adam Nagourney and Janet Elder from December 17, 2003 ("Bush's Approval Ratings Climb In Days After Hussein's Capture") were shot through with doubts about the war in Iraq and the "spiral of concern" about the nation's economy, with the second paragraph already wholly negative.

The capture of Saddam Hussein has lifted Americans' view of the state of the nation and their opinion of President Bush, while at least momentarily halting what had been a spiral of concern about the nation's economic and foreign policy, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

But even in the glow of Mr. Hussein's capture, Americans worry that United States forces will be mired in Iraq for years, are concerned that the attacks on American troops will continue and say that President Bush has no plan to extricate the United States from Iraq, the poll found. And 60 percent of Americans said the United States was as vulnerable to a terrorist attack as it was before Mr. Hussein was pulled from a hole in Ad Dwar.

Times/CBS News polls spanned the days before and after Mr. Hussein's capture, offering a vivid demonstration of the extent to which public opinion can shift in reaction to a momentous event. From Saturday night to Sunday night, Americans' view of the success of the war soared, as did their opinion about whether the nation is on the right track and their approval of Mr. Bush.

While Obama's improved approval rating number made the second paragraph, in 2003 the Times only got to Bush's higher number in the fifth paragraph:

Mr. Bush's approval rating jumped to 58 percent after Mr. Hussein was captured, from 52 percent, and the number of Americans who disapproved of his performance fell to 33 percent, from 40 percent.

After noting Bush's numbers had improved along several measures, the paper continued its crusade over the liberal controversy over Bush's non-attendance at soldiers funerals (even though a History News Network article from the time demonstrated it's actually rare for sitting presidents to attend soldiers' funerals during wartime).

Along those same lines, two-thirds of respondents said Mr. Bush should make it a practice to attend the funerals of some Americans killed in Iraq. (That said, a quarter of respondents said, incorrectly, that Mr. Bush was attending those funerals.)

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.