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Obama approval rating slumping even in bluest of the blue California

Daniel B. WoodThe Christian Science Monitor

In a development many say harbingers ill for US Democrats everywhere in the midterm elections, President Obama’s approval ratings have fallen to a record low in California.

A statewide Field Poll, released Tuesday, found that nearly as many Californians disapprove of the president’s job performance (43 percent) as approve (45 percent).

“This reading is the poorest appraisal of the job performance that Obama has received of his presidency and is in sharp contrast to the 62 percent favorable perception that California voters had of him at the beginning of his second term,” say pollsters Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field.

“Most of the recent decline in the president’s approval ratings has occurred among subgroups of voters who had been among Obama’s strongest supporters in prior polls,” they add.

Mr. Obama's approval ratings had remained stubbornly high in California. The only other time they had been below 50 percent was a portion of 2011. Given the apparent waning of that rock-solid support, and the fact that California is a blue state, a slump for Obama will likely be bad news for Democrats, say some California-based analysts. 

“Does the GOP – in blue California – actually pick up a seat or two in the state's congressional delegation? Totally possible. Indeed likely,” says David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University.

"The president’s waning popularity overall ... portends a tough day in November for Democrats," he adds.

Some analysts say that it has been Obama’s handling of Ukraine, and the Islamic State (IS) that have led to the recent slide.

“There have been a number of national and international events where the president has been portrayed as inattentive, ineffective, or overly cautious,” says Charles Gallagher, chair of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia, who studies race and ethnicity.

“This has hurt his polling numbers with all Americans but what has become painfully obvious regarding his base is the halo effect of being a black president perfectly suited for a post-civil rights colorblind America is long over," he adds.

Whatever the cause, a slump in popularity in the bluest of the blue states "may mean that President Obama's coattails are increasingly small," says Jessica Levinson, professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and former political reform director of the Center for Governmental Studies.

“His approval in a good number of the blue states is below, sometimes well below, 50 percent; and in those states, Democratic candidates often are in trouble," says Villanova University political scientist John Johannes.

Still, he adds, he president's approval has "faded a bit lately, but we're talking a few points. Any one poll may show slightly better or worse results."

Other analysts say the new California findings are merely catching up to national trends. Only 42 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance, according the Gallup poll's three-day rolling average.

Despite these low numbers, Obama still remains far less unpopular than Congress, which has a 13 percent approval rating, or the Republican Party, at 34 percent, up from an all-time low of 28 percent during the 2013 government shutdown, according to Gallup.

William Rosenberg, director of Drexel University’s Survey Research Center, says the Field Poll changes are within the margin of error and therefore signal very little, if anything.

“If you look at the approval/disapproval figures for April, June, and now August, there is essentially no change, so I feel this 'Oh, the sky is falling' assessment for Democrats is incorrect," says Rosenberg. "The change might be slight, but certainly not dramatic.”

“I wouldn’t read too much into this poll," adds Matthew Kerbel, author of "Netroots: Online Progressives and the Transformation of American Politics." "Obama’s numbers reflect frustration with the president, but they are not too far out of line with what you might expect for a president in his sixth year serving at a decidedly negative political moment."

Moreover, other analysts say, Obama’s once-soaring popularity has always been due for a large falloff.

“This president has always had an appointment with disappointment. In 2008, expectations were so high that no mortal could meet them,” says John Pitney, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “The president also suffers from the lack of a clear opponent. In 2012, he could say, in essence, “At least I’m not Romney.”