"That poll is tapping into something real, and that is, people will continue to feel uneasy and unfulfilled as long as they don't have any certainty about his death or capture," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, an independent polling organization.
Kohut said that because the country views the overall war effort as a success, it's unlikely that a failure to apprehend Bin Laden would cause Bush's overwhelming public support to erode. But Kohut predicted that Americans are unlikely to feel life returning to anything approaching normal if the terrorist remains at large.
"Getting him will get us over . . . the first hump, a crucial hump, in getting back to normal," Kohut said.
The president, who said he had seen only "snippets" of a Bin Laden videotape released this week, made clear that the U.S. government had little reliable information about its prey after the intensive bombing campaign.
"He's on the run, if he's running at all," the president said. "We don't know whether he's in a cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open. We just don't know. . . . But one thing we know is that he's not in charge of Afghanistan anymore."
Gerstenzang reported from Crawford and Rubin from Kabul. Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein in Washington contributed to this report.